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   Non-TechBinary Hodgepodge

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To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (6730)6/17/2023 5:06:47 PM
From: Ron
   of 6761
-- influential volunteer moderators who manage the communities that make up the site walled off large parts of Reddit, making them inaccessible to most users as part of their demonstration.

Noticed that earlier on Reddit. This is going to be interesting.

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To: Ron who wrote (6732)6/17/2023 5:22:38 PM
From: Glenn Petersen
   of 6761
A self-inflected wound. I wonder where the users are migrating.

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From: Ron6/17/2023 5:22:52 PM
   of 6761
The Untold Story of the Biggest, Boldest Supply-Chain Hack Ever:
Hackers May still be inside corporate and government computers, years later: Solar Winds

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To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (6733)6/17/2023 5:40:26 PM
From: Glenn Petersen
   of 6761
I just bought the only physical encyclopedia still in print, and I regret nothing

The still-updated World Book Encyclopedia is my antidote to the information apocalypse.

BENJ EDWARDS - 6/9/2023, 6:30 AM
Ars Technica

A photo of the 2023 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia on the author's family room shelf. / Benj Edwards

These days, many of us live online, where machine-generated content has begun to pollute the Internet with misinformation and noise. At a time when it's hard to know what information to trust, I felt delight when I recently learned that World Book still prints an up-to-date book encyclopedia in 2023. Although the term "encyclopedia" is now almost synonymous with Wikipedia, it's refreshing to see such a sizable reference printed on paper. So I bought one, and I'll tell you why.

Based in Chicago, World Book, Inc. first published an encyclopedia in 1917, and it has released a new edition almost every year since 1925. The company, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, claims that its encyclopedia is "the only general reference encyclopedia still published today." My research seems to back up this claim, at least in English; it's possibly true even for languages. Its fiercest competitor of yore, The Encyclopedia Britannica, ended its print run in 2012 after 244 years in print.

In a nod to our present digital age, World Book also offers its encyclopedia as a subscription service through the web. Yet it's the print version that mystifies and attracts my fascination. Why does it still exist?

"Because there is still a demand!" Tom Evans, World Book's editor-in-chief, told Ars over email.

Today, up-to-date information flows freely thanks to the Internet. It's only a Google search away. Many people rely on Wikipedia, which is a nonprofit collaborative resource, for reference purposes. Despite that, some people and organizations apparently still buy paper encyclopedias. Evans said that sales of the print edition are "in the thousands" and that World Book always prints just enough copies to satisfy demand.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, a competitor of World Book, ended its print run in 2012. / Encyclopedia Britannica

A World Book rep told Quartz in 2019 that the print encyclopedia sold mostly to schools, public libraries, and homeschooling families. Today, Evans says that public and school libraries are still the company's primary customers. "World Book has a loyal following of librarians who understand the importance of a general reference encyclopedia in print form, accessible to all."

As a kid, our family owned a 1968 edition of World Book that I relied on for school reports and projects all the way until my high school graduation in 1999, although I briefly used Microsoft Encarta on CD-ROM and a CompuServe encyclopedia in the 1990s. At the time, even with electronic references, instantaneous, up-to-date information didn't seem as important. We were still largely operating at the speed of paper. While that concept seems foreign to us in our current world, there was a certain kind of comfort in that slowness.

Speaking of slow, a paper encyclopedia set certainly can't run away from you. Back in the day, our family's encyclopedia set took up a large dedicated shelf in our family room. Just like my old 1968 edition, the new print edition of World Book is a physically hefty reference. The 2023 version spans 17,000 articles spread over 14,000 pages in 22 volumes. The company says it features over 25,000 photographs, illustrations, diagrams, and maps.

All this paper-bound content can't possibly come cheap, you might think. And, of course, you're right. At a time when most information comes to us for free online (with strings attached, of course), it's easy to have sticker shock at the $1,199 retail price for the 2023 edition of World Book, although shoppers might occasionally find it for as low as $799 on Amazon (to compare, the online subscription costs $250 per year). Earlier editions are available for much lower prices.

I know it may seem weird to prefer the print edition since you can get the same content in the online version in a space-saving and portable format. But with the paper version, the World Book will always be yours. It can't be edited stealthily or taken down if the company needs the server space or goes out of business.

So I took the plunge.

Why I bought an encyclopedia

Unboxing a print encyclopedia in 2023 is a somewhat surreal experience for a tech writer./ Benj Edwards

First, I'll be honest: The existence of an up-to-date print encyclopedia in 2023 took me by surprise. I experienced a range of emotions, from glee to confusion to sadness over the past. "The last of the dinosaurs" metaphor sprung to mind. But then I suddenly felt that I had to have it, and that's when the rationalizations kicked in. I have two kids, 10 and 13, and maybe the kids could use it for school, just like I did? Or maybe they could use it as a steady source of offline information in a world where unreliable information seems to be coming at them from all sides?

I'm an AI reporter for Ars Technica, and I often write about generative AI tools that could potentially pollute our online spaces (and our historical records) with very convincing fake information. Some people think these tools may destabilize society. At best, they may merely decrease the signal-to-noise ratio of online information. Years ago, The Guardian and BuzzFeed called this presumed coming age, where true and false information are almost impossible to distinguish, "the Information apocalypse." Never one to shy away from the chance to coin a term, I've called it the "cultural singularity."

Although I've warned about AI-generated misinformation on Ars Technica as well, I'm still optimistic that people who are cognizant of these issues can get through the coming decade with factual electronic knowledge at hand. But just in case I'm wrong, a little voice in the back of my head reasoned that it would be nice to have a good summary of human knowledge in print, vetted by professionals and fixed in a form where it can't be tampered with after the fact—whether by humans, AI, or mere link rot. That's appealing to me.

So I pulled the trigger and bought the 2023 edition. A week or so later, the entire encyclopedia set arrived in a single box that looked small but was massively heavy. Each volume came individually shrink-wrapped. It may sound silly, but as I carefully pulled them out of the box one by one, I enjoyed feeling the weight of the information in my hands. It felt like stepping back onto dry land after a long boat ride. It's hard to put a name on that emotion.

An example of The World Book 2023 Encyclopedia, turned to the entry on "Television." / Benj Edwards

Opening up a volume of the World Book took me back in time. Memories of school libraries and book reports came flooding back. Notably, each volume has nothing to distract you from reading. No pop-ups, no requests for donations, no ads. It's just you and the information, curated by World Book's editors.

As for its content, the 2023 edition doesn't shy away from the contemporary. New biographies of notable figures such as snowboarder Chloe Kim, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the US Supreme Court, find their place alongside hundreds of article updates on topics varying from homeschooling and indigenous peoples of the Americas to space exploration and television.

To test its accuracy, I looked up articles on subjects I'm knowledgeable about, including "Artificial Intelligence," "Computer," "Video Games," "Internet," and "Communication," eagerly checking for updates and additions to the 1968 edition I had as a kid. It's surreal to open up a reference book familiar to me from my childhood and read (in the familiar World Book typeface) an up-to-date article that mentions Instagram and Snapchat and includes a photo of a smartphone.

Smartphones appear in the 2023 edition. That feels weird when the last time you looked at a World Book was in the 1990s. / Benj Edwards

World Book's authoritative, neutral tone feels refreshing. For example, the 2023 edition pulls no punches regarding its concise analysis of our previous US president's legacy, but it doesn't go out of the way to attack him, either. Every article I've read so far is accurate and well-written.

It hasn't been a perfect product, however. The 2023 edition of World Book that I purchased includes a binding error that replaces the first 60 pages of the "G" volume with pages from the "U" volume. Judging by a review from an Amazon customer who noticed the same thing, it's possible that defect is present in the entire (likely small) print run.

When I told Evans about the print error, he replied, "We were recently made aware of that manufacturing problem. The printer has assured us that it is an issue for only a very small number of sets." World Book offered to replace the faulty volume for free.

Reaction from my family

The shark photo on the World Book 2023 spines didn't win fans in my household. / Benj Edwards

After I ordered the encyclopedia, I kept it a secret from my family until it arrived because I wanted to surprise my wife and kids. Who would expect an encyclopedia set to show up on the doorstep in 2023?

Upon first telling my wife that I bought an encyclopedia, she was confused, then excited. She, too, recalled the thrill of researching projects in encyclopedias as a kid. But that's where the fun ended. While she wasn't looking, I placed the set on a prominent bookshelf in the family room of my house, then unveiled it to her. When she saw the large photo of a shark spread across the spines of the 22 volumes, she frowned and said, "I don't want to see a big-ass shark every day when I walk in the room."

(I have since moved the set to a new shelf.)

According to the press release announcing the 2023 edition, World Book selected the shark photo (which it calls a "Spinescape®") because sharks are "a high-interest topic to students K-12 and World Book has a desire to support shark conservation." It's not a bad photo—it's just not the handsome set of formal reference volumes that my wife was apparently expecting.

Later, I introduced the encyclopedia to my kids. They had never used a print encyclopedia, and they looked at me like I was an alien, almost as if I were speaking a different language (such a trite expression, but man, is it accurate). I had hoped they could use the encyclopedia as an old-fashioned reference, but so far, they have completely and utterly rejected it, not even expressing interest or opening it once. That aspect of my plans for the encyclopedia has been a big failure.

A promotional photo of The World Book Encyclopedia 2023 edition, complete with shark. / World Book

My family's reaction was disappointing, but I don't mind that the encyclopedia set is just for me. Every morning as I wait for the kids to get ready for school, I pull out a random volume and browse. I've refreshed my knowledge on many subjects and enjoy the deliberate stability of the information experience. I feel confident using it as an occasional personal reference as the online world slides further into AI-augmented noise. And it's definitely more accurate than an AI large language model at the moment.

Aside from the shark photo and the print error, I am genuinely proud to own a modern World Book Encyclopedia. And I say that freely, having purchased the set out of pocket myself. In fact, World Book did not respond to my initial request to provide a sample volume to examine. Who knows—maybe they had to print out my email and physically mail it to Warren Buffett for approval first. I may eventually get a reply next year by steamship. But that's the comfortable, slow speed I'd expect from the world's last general-subject print encyclopedia.

For now, I was happy to chat with World Book's Tom Evans via tempered electrons, who says his employer's commitment to the print edition is ongoing. "We will continue to produce the print edition of The World Book Encyclopedia while there is still a demand. We believe in supporting teachers, librarians, and students and are committed to supplying content to them in whatever form is required," he said.

I'm no information prepper, but I'm glad that no matter what happens online, the information inside my World Book set will never change. Sometimes it's nice not to always be magically up to date.

Benj Edwards is an AI and Machine Learning Reporter for Ars Technica. In his free time, he writes and records music, collects vintage computers, and enjoys nature. He lives in Raleigh, NC.

I just bought the only physical encyclopedia still in print, and I regret nothing | Ars Technica

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To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (6735)6/17/2023 5:46:27 PM
From: Sultan
   of 6761
Interesting.. $1,199 for 22 book set..

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From: Glenn Petersen7/6/2023 8:27:01 PM
1 Recommendation   of 6761
How to Make Money by Losing $300,000 a Year on Slot Machines

Millions of people tune in to see others tackle the casino mainstay. ‘It’s fun to watch somebody else play with their money while you’re sitting on your couch drinking a beer.’

By Katherine Sayre
Wall Street Journal
July 5, 2023 7:05 am ET

PALM SPRINGS—Brian Christopher lost $300,000 gambling on slot machines in casinos last year. Hundreds of thousands of people cheered him on, from the comfort of their own homes.

Several times a week, Christopher takes a seat at the slots and livestreams his play on YouTube and Facebook. With a phone pointed at the animated screen in front of him, he pushes buttons to a soundtrack of chimes, bells and cheery tunes.

“Line it up, buttercup,” he’ll often say as he tests his luck.

A new class of niche celebrities have turned the once-solitary experience of gambling at casino slot machines into a spectator sport with millions of viewers and fan camaraderie. Using monopods or videographers to film the action, the players spend hours talking audiences through the highs and lows of jackpots and losses.

“It’s fun to watch somebody else play with their money while you’re sitting on your couch drinking a beer,” said Wayne Deck, a 60-year-old in Fairfax, Va., who watches Christopher online and visits casinos in-real-life.

Sue Leahy tunes into Christopher’s broadcasts from her home in Latitude Margaritaville, a Jimmy Buffett -themed retirement village in Daytona Beach, Fla. Leahy said she grew tired of losing during her own play, so she started copying Christopher. She noted the kinds of machines he used, and how much he bet, and has hunted them down during her casino visits. “Ever since then, I’ve been winning,” Leahy said, while noting that no one wins all the time.

Slot-machine aficionado Brian Christopher with fan Sue Leahy. / PHOTO: SUE LEAHY

Some who livestream their play are high-rollers who bet $100 or $300 per spin. Others provide practical tips on how to avoid overspending during gambling and remind viewers that the house always wins.

Pat Cudd, a retired English teacher in Gruver, Texas, started playing slots in the early 1990s, and she and two of her sisters have traveled to the Gulf Coast and Las Vegas to enjoy the hobby together.

\At home, in the town of about 1,100 people, she soaks up online slots as a bystander. “Some people like to buy scratch-offs at their local 7-Eleven. I’d rather watch them play slots on YouTube,” she said.

Nongamblers, and some who have given up the pastime, also are among Christopher’s audience of 612,000 YouTube subscribers and 707,000 Facebook followers. “They get their fix by watching someone else play,” he said.

Brian Christopher filming with Executive Assistant Raymond Alvarado and Videographer Apurva Raj. / PHOTO: HILLARY MCAFEE/BC VENTURES

Christopher has built his particular brand of stardom into a full-time business with 10 employees—including his husband and Senior Vice President of Operations Marco Bianchi—who pack merchandise, such as T-shirts and shot glasses, manage social-media interactions and help secure enough deals and partnerships to fund the enterprise. Christopher declined to provide his total revenue, but said he makes enough to turn a profit after paying his staff and the $300,000 in gambling losses.

He offers cruise trips through a partnership with Carnival cruise lines, with as many as 650 fans joining him at sea each trip, and gambling together in the onboard casinos. Next year, he has eight cruises with fans lined up that depart from the Texas Gulf Coast, Miami, Los Angeles and Sydney, Australia.

Casinos long banned patrons from filming to avoid distractions and to protect the privacy of other customers. They have warmed to the idea in recent years, influencers say, and often give special permission for filming, or make promotional deals with the social-media stars.

An assistant and a videographer help Christopher film and produce videos, and he posts daily edited snippets in addition to going live three days a week. Some days, he plays online games from his desk in Palm Springs.

The key is to always include the audience at home, he said. When he first started posting videos, Christopher heard from viewers that they didn’t want to hear him curse. Now, when he loses a spin, he declares “how rude.” (His official fan club has 4,000 members who call themselves the “Rudies.”)

“Make them feel like they’re sitting there beside you,” he said. “It’s not, ‘I won a jackpot.’ It’s, ‘we just won a jackpot.’”

Some celebrity slots players disclose their losses as a badge of honor—a signal they’re being honest about the odds. Francine Maric, a full-time high-roller known as Lady Luck HQ, posts her win-loss statements from casinos. She said she lost $320,000 last year, but still made a profit thanks to advertising revenue and sponsorships.

Francine Maric, known as Lady Luck HQ online, posts her win-loss statements. / PHOTO: FRANCINE MARIC
“Some people like to golf,” Maric said. “Some people like to watch sports. Some people like to collect things. I like to gamble.”

Maric, who lives in the Atlanta area, travels with her husband to casinos once or twice a month to record her playing. Back home, she edits the footage into videos she gradually releases over the following few months.

She remembers organizing her first meet-and-greet with fans at the Blue Chip casino in Michigan City, Ind., on a frigid January day. She said she was shocked when 300 people showed up to take photos with her. Fans have brought her good-luck gifts such as a wooden elephant and an angel to keep bad spirits away.

Heather Deurr, who lives in West Virginia, said watching her favorite slot players online is relaxing, like turning on reruns of a favorite TV show. While she enjoys tuning in, though, she dismisses the idea that there is any strategy to be learned.

“Sometimes you could sit down on a machine and have really good luck, and go back the next time and sit down and not win a dime,” Deurr said.

Write to Katherine Sayre at

How to Make Money by Losing $300,000 a Year on Slot Machines - WSJ (

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To: Sultan who wrote (6736)7/6/2023 8:41:47 PM
From: Glenn Petersen
   of 6761
When I was in grammar school my parents bought a set of the World Book Encyclopedia for me and my younger sister. I could sense that they represented a significant financial outlay for our family and treated them with the respect they deserved. They turned out to be very useful. When my mother died, they were still in her bookcase. I considered keeping them but ended up giving them to the Salvation Army.

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From: Glenn Petersen7/12/2023 7:22:37 AM
   of 6761
Russian Wikipedia’s Top Editor Leaves to Launch a Putin-Friendly Clone

The move is seen as a potential precursor to a ban on the original version.

By Noam Cohen
Bloomberg Businessweek
July 12, 2023, 4:01 AM UTC

When a group of armed mercenaries seized a Russian regional capital and began marching toward Moscow in late June, verified information was hard to come by. Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine largely ignored the Wagner Group’s mutiny at first, while government censors quickly blocked access to Google News through the country’s largest internet providers and hid results for certain searches, such as those for the rebels’ leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, on the Russian search engine Yandex.

An exception was the crowdsourced encyclopedia Wikipedia, which posted a detailed article in Russian about the uprising that incorporated new reporting as it happened. The article, “The Mutiny of the Wagner Group,” cited sources ranging from news media outlets that the Kremlin labels “foreign agents” for not toeing the party line to US newspapers and Russian state media, and is thousands of words long. It drew more than 270,000 page views on its first day.

Wikipedia is one of Russia’s most popular websites, with about 95 million visitors a month, including about 10,000 active editors who maintain its nearly 2 million Russian-language articles. Its enduring presence in Putin’s Russia is a bit surprising, given the Kremlin’s aggressive attempts to control what is said about the government and its policies, a tendency that’s only accelerated since the invasion of Ukraine. Wartime censorship has brought new laws against supposed “disinformation” and bans of news websites, civic organizations and even environmental groups.

While Wikipedia has remained in operation in Russia so far, there are signs that things are shifting against it. From March 2022 through this June, the government repeatedly sanctioned the site, levying fines totaling almost 23 billion rubles ($255 million), according to the Wikimedia Foundation Inc., the San Francisco-based organization that hosts the servers that operate Russian Wikipedia and is thus legally responsible for what is published.

Jacob Rogers, a lawyer who represents the foundation in Russian litigation, says it wouldn’t agree to any of the government’s requests to remove content and is challenging the fines in court. “We think that Wikipedia is full of pretty good information overall, that it’s got good reliable sources representing a variety of different perspectives on these issues, that the users are doing a good job of making it be written in a neutral point of view,” he says.

A worker removes a PMC Wagner Center logo from the Wagner Group’s closed office in St. Petersburg on July 2. / Photographer: Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images
Putin has long made his displeasure with Wikipedia clear, vowing in 2019 to support an alternative that “will be reliable information, presented in a good, modern way.” This April, Valery Fadeyev, the chairman of the Human Rights Council, a Kremlin-backed mouthpiece on civil society issues, said Wikipedia’s coverage of Ukraine justified replacing it with a more cooperative local alternative. The same month Maksut Shadayev, Russia’s minister of digital development, told journalists that the government had no plans to do so, but hardly offered the encyclopedia a vote of confidence. “We are not blocking Wikipedia yet,” he said, according to the Interfax news agency. “There are no such plans for now.”

In what was widely interpreted as an ominous sign, a near-copy of Russian Wikipedia appeared online on June 27. (Wikipedia’s license allows users to “fork” the service, copying a version and starting an alternate version from that snapshot, under certain conditions.) Articles on topics that Russia has banned—like the one about alleged human-rights abuses in Bucha at the start of the war—had been removed. An article on the Wagner Group appeared, but it didn’t mention the mutiny. Gone, too, was an article about a profane chant against Putin that’s popular among Ukrainian soccer fans.

The new site is called Ruwiki, a common shorthand for Russian Wikipedia. It’s the work of Vladimir Medeyko, the long-serving leader of Russian Wikipedia editors. His colleagues were shocked that he’d quit a project he’d worked on since 2003—and even more taken aback that he said his reason for leaving was to create a Kremlin-compliant rival.

Medeyko in Moscow. / ]Source: Ruwiki
Medeyko says he isn’t working for the government. He says he sought to reform Wikipedia from within for more than a decade before the split, which was made possible after he found like-minded investors that he declines to identify. The new site features less free-for-all Wikipedian crowdsourcing. In its initial form, Ruwiki can’t be edited by outsiders at all, though Medeyko’s plan is to allow such volunteer contributions on most articles, while also having panels of experts vet the material. "Experts are not interested in participating in Wikipedia because they don’t want to argue with people without a proper education who have exactly the same rights,” he says.Ruwiki will follow Russian laws while maintaining its neutrality, according to Medeyko. “There will be particularly strict requirements for the quality of sources and indisputable phrasing regarding current events,” he says. Its article about the invasion of Ukraine never refers to it as an invasion, simply noting that “Military operations in Ukraine began on February 24, 2022. This was preceded by a crisis in relations between Russia and Ukraine.”

While Medeyko says he opposes blocking Wikipedia, some hard-liners within the government see his project as a way to do just that. Alexander Khinshtein, the chair of the digital committee in the lower house of the Russian parliament, wrote on his Telegram account the day after Ruwiki went live: “As I’ve said many times, Wikipedia can only be completely blocked when a domestic analogue has been created. Now, that’s no longer an issue.”

Russian Wikipedians fear a similar outcome. “If they want to block us, they can,” says Stanislav Kozlovskiy, who’s replaced Medeyko. He says the Putin regime has targeted fewer than 200 articles—a tiny fraction. He also says it’s hard to satisfy government censors entirely. “We try to maintain neutrality, and any sensitive issues are reviewed by moderators,” he says. “We limit the use of Russian or Ukrainian sources for current events, but that doesn’t stop the criticism. In Russia, officials think our articles are written by Ukrainians, while some Ukrainians seem to believe that they’re written in the Kremlin.”

Russia isn’t the only country where Wikipedia has found itself in conflict with local officials. Turkey shut it down for more than two years after it refused to remove material describing the nation as a state sponsor of terror because of its support of militant groups in Syria. The Turkish government said the accusations were part of a smear campaign that threatened the public order and national security. A Turkish court restored Wikipedia in 2020, saying the ban violated the country’s constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression.

Pakistan shut down Wikipedia for a weekend in February for posting what it considered to be sacrilegious content. In May, India told the foundation it would block the English version of Wikipedia locally if it didn’t follow an Indian law that says all maps must match its national border outline, including disputed areas such as Kashmir. The community is debating whether to comply.

One of Wikipedia’s best defenses against such actions is its popularity. When China, the only major country to ban Wikipedia outright, began blocking the site, it softened the blow by first cultivating a government-friendly alternative: the collaborative encyclopedia Baidu Baike. The new site allowed registered users to create their own content but was also careful to follow China’s censorship rules, giving users a service with a similar feel that posed less of a threat to the government.

Medeyko also plans to replicate some of Wikipedia’s crowdsourced formula. He’s said that Ruwiki will look for editors who don’t find Wikipedia inviting, either because of political controversies or other reasons.

Creating the site has made him a heretic in the eyes of his former community. When Medeyko announced his plans, Wikipedia’s other editors immediately deleted his account—his handle was DrBug—which he had used to make more than 25,000 edits and create hundreds of articles. But if Ruwiki does supplant Wikipedia in Russia, editors who worked on the original site will have to decide how they feel about it, and how to engage with it. Nikolay Bulykin, a frequent contributor to Russian Wikipedia who uploads photographs of historic churches and castles taken by drone, shrugs his shoulders at the thought of the thousands of hours he’s devoted to creating content for Wikipedia ending up on a site that could replace it.

“I’m not going to forbid anyone from using my work,” he says from Kazakhstan, where he relocated after the Russian army began drafting men to fight in Ukraine. “That’s not what free knowledge is all about.”

Russian Wikipedia Editor Leaves to Launch a Putin-Friendly Clone - Bloomberg (

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From: Ron7/14/2023 7:56:29 PM
   of 6761
Amazon still on track to open a new home internet service, via satellites by 2025

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From: Glenn Petersen7/16/2023 7:47:25 PM
   of 6761
You’re Not Imagining It: Social Media Is in Chaos

By Sriram Krishnan
Mr. Krishnan is a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm.
New York Times
Guest Opinion
July 15, 2023

War is breaking out on social media, and it could radically change how the internet works and how we experience it.

Last week, Meta rolled out Threads, a social media product similar to Twitter that quickly got over 100 million sign-ups. This is more than just a tech founder cage match — it is the latest incident in a pattern of increasing chaos. Large parts of internet community site Reddit went dark recently in a user protest over its decision to charge other companies more for using its data. This came right after the livestreaming platform Twitch walked back restrictions on creators after boycott threats. There’s change in the air in social media, and it is spreading fast.

I spent most of the past decade working at large social media companies. I briefly helped Elon Musk after his acquisition of Twitter, in which my firm is an investor. My firm is also an investor in Substack, Reddit and other social media companies, and our general partner Marc Andreessen is on the board of Meta.

I believe the skirmishes of the past few weeks are connected to one another and are worth paying attention to. They represent a fundamental rejection of how the internet and large tech companies have worked for several decades. Instead of being limited to a few large companies, we may be at the start of an era of many online spaces, where consumers could have more power and rights than they’ve ever had.

Think of the current large social networks as various European nations at the dawn of the 20th century. Often ruled by monarchs and autocrats (C.E.O.s), they exist in an uneasy balance with their own users and with one another.

Users and social networks have an unspoken agreement: In return for entertainment, utility and an audience, users hand over control. If the network chooses to kick you out, you’re out in the cold. Choosing to leave one platform means losing your audience forever. You can’t take it with you.

Large social networks act like geopolitical neighbors in an uneasy Westphalian peace with one another. They often move in lock step, swiftly introducing similar features. Stories on Snap? Copied by Instagram and YouTube. TikTok reels? See Reels and YouTube Shorts.

They are also aligned ideologically on what content to censor. Major companies agreed on how to handle theories on the origin of Covid or stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop, leading to what Evelyn Douek, a Stanford law professor, calls “content cartels.” In many ways, there has been a prevailing monolithic culture on how things get done.

In 1914, Europe seemed to be at relative peace, but there were cracks and tensions emerging. All it took was an assassination, initially seen as insignificant, to plunge the world into conflict. Similarly, in the first half of 2023 there has been a succession of online dominoes smashing the status quo of social media to smithereens, causing uprisings in several places.

The first domino was economic. As interest rates started to rise, social media companies discovered they weren’t immune to macroeconomic forces. C.E.O.s reacted with an increased emphasis on products that make money directly from the consumer and reducing employee head count.

The second domino was the introduction of A.I. assistants like ChatGPT. While many were blown away by their possibilities, they forced social media websites to re-evaluate how their data is used externally. Historically many websites like Reddit and Stack Overflow allowed some of their content — especially the discussions among their users on various topics — to be available free. This was typically done to allow search engines to find this content and send users back to these sites. Want to compare two highly recognized San Francisco restaurants? Enter their names and “Reddit” in Google, and recent Reddit conversations are likely to appear. Click on one of the links, and you’re now in Reddit (thereby boosting its business). Third-party developers also tapped this data to build useful tools on top of this content.

A.I. assistants rely on enormous amounts of such data and would hoover up that conversation about San Francisco restaurants. So if you ask an A.I. assistant for the names of San Francisco’s best restaurants, it could well use that Reddit discussion to generate its answer. But it won’t tell you that Reddit was a source for its answer. It won’t send you to Reddit. And as of now, it pays Reddit nothing for the help.

The third domino was Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter. Whether or not you agree with Mr. Musk’s moves after he bought Twitter, they have sparked a chain reaction. Reddit’s C.E.O. cited Twitter as a template for how to cut costs. Meta’s Facebook and Instagram followed Twitter in charging for verification of individual users. Meta introduced Threads, the Twitter alternative. While it’s early days to see how this plays out, it is clear the social media landscape has shifted quickly and profoundly.

This takes us to the first key shift that may reshape how the internet works: decentralization. For over a decade, all major internet platforms have been “centralized” — services are run by a central team, often based in Silicon Valley.
Decentralized services try to bring modern democratic ideas to internet platforms. While social media giants endure a constant stream of accusations that they curate their content in a way that furthers political agendas, the goal of decentralization is a network that is credibly neutral in the way it works. The network should be able to resist attempts by any party to seize power and become centralized. Most important, no centralized gatekeeper can delete a user’s account or data — and you should be able to take your audience with you wherever you go.

Interest in decentralized services has been increasing for some time, as various groups have disagreed with the management of the platforms they use. One such service is Farcaster, a decentralized social network in which I’m a direct investor. Others are apps like Bluesky and Mastodon. Instagram has said Threads will support some flavor of this in the future.

The second major development is that large internet sites are fighting back against A.I. models with the internet equivalent of raising the castle drawbridge. The coding site Stack Overflow, Reddit and others have raised the prices for their data to be used. In Reddit’s case, the change had the effect of blocking some popular third-party applications, setting off continuing protests and blackouts.

We will need a fundamentally different mechanism for websites to exchange value with A.I. assistants. Otherwise, expect more raised drawbridges and more user protests. Some industry experts believe the answers are in legal action and older sites forming content alliances.

As a technologist, my hope is that the answers lie in code rather than lawyers and that we see creative technology solutions to help keep the internet open.

For far too long, the online world has been in stasis limited to a few options dominated by a few large companies. Technological breakthroughs and unrest were needed to shake things up, and that has happened. A pessimist might say that this is going to lead to chaos and challenges. As an optimist who invests in technology entrepreneurs for a living, I believe we are in for an age of major innovation, with all of us having more options and say in how things are run online.

Either way, it’s going to be one heck of a ride.

Opinion | Threads, Twitter, and the Future of Social Media - The New York Times (

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