Older blog entries for Skud (starting at number 143)

Preliminary results of my survey of suspended Google+ accounts

The other day I posted a call for people who have had their accounts suspended by Google for name-related reasons to fill in this form.

I’ve received over a hundred responses so far (N=119), so it’s time to start talking about the results.

Firstly, 74% of respondents are using the name that most people know them by. Specifically, 18% say that the name they are using on Google+ is the one they are known by “exclusively” and 56% say that “a majority of people know me by this”. However, only 13% of respondents say that it’s the name that appears on their government-issued ID.

No surprise whatsoever: many people are known by names other than what’s on their ID.

What types of names are causing suspensions? Here are some that respondents have said it’s okay to share:

  • Many names that seem “normal” even by the fairly limited standards Google seems to be employing: george meagles, Winter Seale, b. pepper, Jacqueline L., Laurence Simon, etc. Though he didn’t reply to my survey, William Shatner was also suspended.
  • Names that incorporate a nickname or handle as a middle name or using an “aka”, eg: Steve “robUx4″ Lhomme, Robert Myers aka Zarber Paracelsus, Josh (slayerXcore) Kimble. Another well-known example who didn’t take the survey is Limor “LadyAda” Fried.
  • A number of people using mononyms, including some for whom it is their legal name/on their government ID (“Sai”) and some who commonly use mononyms that don’t match their government ID (I’m in this bucket, as I used “Skud”). Some mononymous people have used a dot as their surname, while others have repeated their name, eg. “aestetix aestetix”.
  • Many cases of online identities of long standing, including Second Life identities, bloggers, etc.
  • Many cases of professional names: authors, artists, musicians, and technologists who are known by pen names/stage names/etc.
  • A handful of cases of names of non-English origin (Arabic, Taiwanese, etc) being suspended — I have heard that there are many cases of this, but I haven’t heard from many, perhaps because my survey is only in English.

Most telling are the reasons people give for their choice of name:

  • “I am a high school teacher, privacy is of the utmost importance.”
  • “I publish under my nom de plume, it’s printed on my business cards, and all of the thousands of people I know through my social networks know my by my online name.”
  • “I have used this name/account in a work context, my entire family know this name and my friends know this name. It enables me to participate online without being subject to harassment that at one point in time lead to my employer having to change their number so that calls could get through.”
  • “I do not feel safe using my real name online as I have had people track me down from my online presence and had coworkers invade my private life.”
  • “I’ve been stalked. I’m a rape survivor. I am a government employee that is prohibited from using my IRL.”
  • “I work for a private club. I have to carry a card around which states I will not share any element of the club with any sort of media. So, If I want to talk about work (and I do) on the net, I have to use an alias.”
  • “I’ve been using this name for over 10 years in the “hacking” community. There are a nontrivial amount of people who know me *only* by that name.”
  • “As a former victim of stalking that impacted my family I’ve used [my nickname] online for about 7 years.”
  • “Under [this name] I am active in a number of areas of sexual difference for which it would not be wise for me to use my flesh legal name.”
  • “My actual real name is utterly non-identifying, as 1) it is the name of a character in a movie (Girl, Interrupted), and that overwhelms google search results 2) it’s not unique at ALL.”
  • “[this name] is a pseudonym I use to protect myself. My web site can be rather controversial and it has been used against me once.”
  • “I started using [this name] to have at least a little layer of anonymity between me and people who act inappropriately/criminally. I think the “real names” policy hurts women in particular.
  • “I use the pseudonym to maintain my online anonymity because I am polyamorous and have no desire for professional acquaintances to discover this.”
  • “I enjoy being part of a global and open conversation, but I don’t wish for my opinions to offend conservative and religious people I know or am related to. Also I don’t want my husband’s Govt career impacted by his opinionated wife, or for his staff to feel in any way uncomfortable because of my views.”
  • “I have privacy concerns for being stalked in the past. I’m not going to change my name for a google+ page. The price I might pay isn’t worth it.”
  • “We get death threats at the blog, so while I’m not all that concerned with, you know, sane people finding me. I just don’t overly share information and use a pen name.”
  • “This identity was used to protect my real identity as I am gay and my family live in a small village where if it were openly known that their son was gay they would have problems.”
  • “I go by pseudonym for safety reasons. Being female, I am wary of internet harassment.”

It reads like a reiteration of the list of groups harmed by a “real names” policy that we started putting together last week, doesn’t it? And I’m not at all surprised that more than 10% explicitly cited safety concerns (stalking, harassment, etc), and the majority of those were women.

I’ve put together a spreadsheet that shows the data from those people who said I could share it. Note that the group who agreed to share their data are, on the whole, more likely to be from Western/English-speaking cultures, and more likely to have names based on Internet identities than those in the “don’t share” group. In other words, Internet pseuds are over-represented in the public spreadsheet, and international respondents are under-represented. Here are the public responses.

As I said, this is a preliminary round-up of the data. I’m hoping to get more responses and do more analysis over time. Please keep sending people to take the survey if they’ve been suspended. If you previously took the survey and want to update your information (for instance, if your account has been reinstated), you can email me the details at skud@infotrope.net.

Mural from Balmy St, San Francisco

ObRandomPic: one of my favourite San Francisco murals, in Balmy Street in the Mission District.

Syndicated 2011-07-25 22:18:06 from InfotropismInfotropism | Infotropism

More comments on Google+ and names

I’ve been seeing a lot of the same things get asked/said repeatedly so I thought I’d cover a few of them here.

“Why not just change your Google+ name to Kirrily Robert? That would get your account reinstated.”

Honestly, if Google’s support people tell me that’s what I need to do, I will do so. They have not yet told me that I need to do that. I’m playing dumb for now, and seeing how it plays out, because I’m interested in the review/appeal process.

If I do change my Google+ name to Kirrily Robert, I will (presumably) get my account back, but I won’t use it much any more. It will become like my Facebook or Quora accounts, two other services where I have an account but seldom use it because it feels weird to be using an identity at odds with how most of my friends know me.

“You knowingly violated the TOS, what did you expect?”

Sort of. The so-called “Community Standards” say, “Use the name your family/friends/colleagues know you by”. I am abiding by the rules as stated, though I admit that I am doing so in the knowledge that policy that’s actually enforced by Google differs from what they have published.

So yeah, I knew I would probably have my account suspended. I’m not too worried by that, because I’m not all that invested in the platform. And I thought it would be interesting and educational for someone who understands the system quite well (my recent ex-Googler status helps with this) to poke at it from outside and see how it appears to work.

My goals were, firstly, to help highlight the problems with the policy, and secondly, to test out and document the processes around it. This seems to be going well so far.

“People are losing access to all their Google services when their account is suspended!”

A lot of people are talking about this so I wanted to address it.

As far as I know, people are not losing access to all their Google services simply for using a name that Google doesn’t like. I have not yet heard of a single documentable case of this. (A documentable case would involve a G+ profile page that looks like this and contains the words, “we determined that the name you provided violates our Community Standards.”)

What I have heard is that many people are losing access to all Google services for some form of ill-defined “violation of our Terms of Service”. This is getting conflated with the names issue, and it’s not surprising. Google’s communication is weak, and they don’t tell you exactly what TOS you broke, so it’s easy to think it must be the name-related thing you’re hearing about happening to other people.

Some other considerations:

  • Google+’s TOS forbids a range of content including “spam”, “hate speech”, “copyright”, and so-called NSFW content but nobody’s quite sure where the lines are or how it’s enforced, so it might be that you’re getting shut down for content violations you didn’t expect.
  • Google+ allows anyone to report an account for abuse. While it’s unclear how those reports are escalated or how many of them are needed to lead to account suspension, if the bar is set too low (as it seems to be), this can lead to many capricious suspensions. (If you thought DMCA takedown notices could be used inappropriately to harass or intimidate, consider that Google+ only requires someone — anyone, not even the copyright holder — to click a button that says “copyright” to achieve the same effect.)
  • Google+ has no facility for “warnings” prior to suspension. Other services (even Google-run Youtube) typically freeze/hide/take down specific content, or send you a warning telling you that you must do so yourself, rather than suspend an entire account with no warning.
  • There is no clear understanding of the scope and range of TOS enforcement. Does TOS violation on one Google service result in losing access to that one service, or to multiple services? This doesn’t seem to have been well thought through.

The last point is an important one. As Google encourages people to consolidate more and more of their online lives in Google services, it’s going to be increasingly important for Google to maintain separation between services when it comes to TOS enforcement. You shouldn’t lose access to your email and documents just because you posted a risque picture on Google+ or a fan video to Youtube, any more than you should have your car towed for not paying your phone bill.

So, to sum up: as far as I can tell, people are not losing access to GMail and other services for using the wrong name on Google+, but they are losing access to those services for a cluster of other reasons which relate closely to the names problem.

“Their service, their rules.”

I’ve heard a number of people say that restaurants, retailers, and other businesses can put up signs that say, “We reserve the right to refuse service for any reason,” so why can’t Google? The thing is, businesses can say that all they want, but they if they attempt to not serve someone because they’re black, or queer, or disabled, they can expect public criticism and, in many cases, prosecution under anti-discrimination laws.

Sometimes, when businesses discriminate, they do so indirectly. “We don’t discriminate against women,” they say, “just against people who care for children,” or who have long hair, or any of the myriad other traits strongly associated with being female, or part of some other class. Indirect discrimination is discrimination nonetheless, and in some jurisdictions is just as illegal as direct discrimination.

(And just to make it completely clear: using a name other than that which appears on your legal ID is strongly correlated with being a member of one or more marginalised or discriminated-against groups. See: Who is harmed by a “Real Names” policy?)

So no, first of all, businesses can’t just say “our service, our rules”, if those rules are considered discriminatory under the law. Secondly, even if the law does not recognise their practices as discriminatory, it’s still valid to complain about them. This is especially true when it relates to an institution in a position of widespread power and ubiquity, rather than a niche or specialised service.

“It’s only a field trial, you can’t expect perfection.”

I believe this field trial went out too early, and that policy and communication strategies around the names issue — which Google knew would be a big deal — should have been in place before they went live. While I don’t expect perfection, I do expect something at least halfway usable, and the names policy, its enforcement, and the review/appeal process aren’t anywhere near that. (The same goes for gender privacy, too — now fixed, but shouldn’t have been launched in that state, in my opinion.)

That said, I have sympathy for the developers who are trying to do a lot under a great deal of pressure. We know to expect bugs, and we’re giving them a lot of leeway as we test out the system, send feedback, and generally kick the tires. People are being pretty good-natured about the rough edges, on the whole, and either let them slide or sent feedback. (I even sent feedback on the feedback tool, asking for a counter to show how much feedback I’ve sent.)

It would be nice if Google would provide the same sort of understanding toward us, by erring on the side of caution when wielding the banhammer, as we try and figure out how the system works based on, quite frankly, very little clear information.

4 people with names written on their hands

Party nametags from my couchwarming party, September 2010, at my house in San Francisco. Three of four people shown -- who I know offline, and interact with face to face -- are using names which would not be permitted on Google+.

Syndicated 2011-07-24 19:15:46 from InfotropismInfotropism | Infotropism

I’ve been suspended from Google+

So, just to backtrack and fill everyone in on the details:

  • I’ve been a strong advocate of pseudonymity for a considerable time. Hacker News and pseudonymity is a good example of my writing on the subject, from June last year.
  • The startup I worked for was acquired by Google in July 2010.
  • I left Google last Friday, July 15th, one year after the acquisition. My reasons are described, in part, here.
  • During the time I was at Google, Google was working on the project that would become Google+. I was not involved directly in that project, but I did try to keep myself informed of their planned policies regarding pseudonymity, and advocated strongly in favour of Google+ allowing it. Obviously, that advocacy wasn’t successful.
  • My first tweet upon leaving Google, posted from the BART station about ten minutes after walking out the door, was to state my belief that Google+’s anti-pseudonym policy was harmful and discriminatory. (I didn’t say so publicly before then because, as an employee, I couldn’t really publicly criticise my employer. Once I’d left, I felt more able to do so.)
  • Because I knew Google’s policies pretty well (as much as anyone can, when they’re so unclear), I knew I was at risk of my account (under the name of “Skud .”) being suspended. I prepared this page about my name gathering evidence and testimonials from people who know me primarily, or solely, as “Skud”.
I KNW SKD

Viral shows off his home-made "I know Skud" button, on my second-last day at Google

So today, I got off a plane this afternoon to find a pile of tweets, emails, and blog comments asking whether it was true that my Google+ account had been suspended. When I managed to get some wifi and check, it turned out that it had been.

I know there’s a lot of people wondering what happens when you get suspended, so here is my experience so far.

Gmail works fine, I can check my email. There’s no official notification that my Google+ account has been suspended, though.

When I click on “+Skud” in my Google toolbar (top left), it takes me to Google+, and I can see my stream, and that 16 new people are following me. When I click through to my own profile, though, I see this:

notice of suspension

Your profile is suspended. After reviewing your profile, we determined that the name you provided violates our Community Standards. If you believe this profile has been suspended in error, please provide us with additional information via this form, and we will review your profile again.

Note, by the way, that the Google+ “Community Standards” (actually linked as Content Policy at the bottom of most pages on the site — just one of many inconsistencies) says:

To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you.

I had been pleased when I originally saw these terms, thinking that they would allow people with long-standing pseudonyms, or who regular use names that don’t match their state-issued ID, or who have unusual names, to use the service without difficulty. However, we’ve seen multiple cases of people having their accounts suspended despite this.

Anyway, I clicked through the form, which looked like this:

Appeal form

Our Community Standards play an important role in insuring a positive experience for everyone using Google Profiles. As part of our standards to help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, please use the name that your friends, family, or co-workers usually call you. [...] If you believe that we have mistakenly suspended your profile for having an unauthentic [sic] name, please fill out the form below.

It then asks me for my name (uh, don’t you know that already?), email (ditto), link to my profile (ditto), and asks me to provide documentation. I can either give them a scan of my photo ID (obscuring “personal information”, whatever that means), or links to places on the web that demonstrate that this is my name. They suggest using Facebook (the site that allows Google founder Sergey Brin to go under a pseudonym, and whose own founder has a page for his dog) as evidence. I have something better, though, because I expected this to happen and I had already collated my evidence. I linked to that page and submitted the form.

The result was this ill-formated, uninformative page:

feedback received

Thank you for sending us your feedback about Google Profiles.

No further word on what the appeals process looks like, how soon I can expect to hear back from them, or anything like that.

So, while I’m suspended, it appears that:

  • I can view my stream, including posts to “Limited” circles that include me
  • I can add people to my circles using the tool in the right sidebar
  • However, it says I have 0 people in my circles, on my profile page
  • When I go to my circles page, it says “People who’ve added you (undefined)”
  • I can’t comment on anyone’s posts
  • I don’t think anyone can add me to posts explicitly using +Skud/@Skud
  • I can send feedback on Google+ (though I don’t much feel the urge to)
  • ETA: I can’t use Google Takeout to export my profile and stream (screenshot).

People have been asking whether this suspension is in relation to me criticising Google’s hiring practices yesterday, or publicly criticising Google+’s pseudonymity policies over the past week or so (you can bet I’ve been criticising them privately, as an employee, for much longer than that). For the record, I don’t think these things are directly related, but I do think it is probable that my profile was reported by someone who disagrees with my pro-pseudonymity activism. Unsurprisingly, the very policy that was meant to make Google+ “a positive experience for all users” is easily used as a griefing tool against those expressing non-mainstream views. Who could have foretold that? (That sound you hear is is my head hitting my keyboard.)

Anyway, I will attempt to keep you all updated on the appeal process, with screenshots and so on. Hopefully if I can bring nothing else to this steaming pile of bullshit, I can bring documentation.

Also, if you’ve made it this far, you should check out the community-curated list of groups of people who are harmed by this policy and accompanying blog comments over at Geek Feminism.


Update, July 23rd

Email from Google, received at 3:23pm PDT, a little over a day since my suspension:

Hello,

Thank you for contacting us with regard to the name in your Google
Profile. It looks like you have deleted your Google Profile, and thus we
are unable to take further action on your request for us to review the
name in your profile.

Sincerely,

Ricky

The Google Profiles Support Team

Um, no, I never deleted my account, though I did have the privacy settings locked down fairly tight. I’ve contacted them and advised them to try again. (Unrelatedly, I also made my profile slightly more visible, because I like the idea of adding “Banned from Google+ for using the name everyone knows me by” to my “bragging rights”.)

Update, July 24th

Please see my followup post where I talk a bit more about some of the issues.


Update, July 25th

Another email from “Ricky” (if that’s really his or her real name — I suspect it’s not):

Thank you for contacting us with regard to the name used in your Google
Profile. We have reviewed your appeal and need more information in order
to verify that the name entered Skud . is your common name.

Please reply to this email with a copy of your government issued ID, which
we will dispose of after review. Once we receive this information we can
review your appeal and come to a final decision.

Here is the reply I sent:

My government ID does not demonstrate that “Skud” is my common name — it only demonstrates the name by which the government calls me, and unless you expect me to “circle” border control guards or people from the DMV, I don’t see why that is more relevant than the name by which my friends and colleagues know me.

My website, to which I have already linked you, demonstrates that “Skud” is my common name. Let me link it again, in the hope that you will actually read it this time: http://infotrope.net/bio/my-name/

It’s now been three days since my suspension. Tomorrow I’m having lunch with my old colleagues at Google. I’ve tried not to escalate this process through unofficial channels because I want to see what the suspension and appeal process looks like to someone who doesn’t have my insider knowledge and contacts. I don’t doubt, though, that my case is being discussed a lot inside Google, and probably today or tomorrow will be when Google starts treating me differently from most people who’ve been suspended.


Update, July 26th

Yesterday afternoon (the 25th) I got this email from “Ricky”:

Thank you for contacting us with regard to the name you want to use with
your Google Profile. After further review, we have determined that your
name is within our Community Standards policy. Thank you for your patience
while we reviewed your profile name.

I mentioned this on Twitter but didn’t get too excited, as my profile page wasn’t actually reactivated yet. I emailed them back and said:

How long will it take for my profile to be reinstated now that you
have approved my name?

Time passed, and this morning I got the following email:

It seems you have edited your name back to “skud.” and your account was
blocked. You have to keep the edited name as your common name or your
account will continued to be blocked. Every time you edit your name it is
automatically checked by our system for violations.

Now, I didn’t edit my name. I didn’t touch it. And it is my common name, as I’ve shown through repeated documentation. But this documentation route is getting a little silly, so I decided to change tack:

Ricky, I never edited my name on my profile page — it has remained as my common name (the name my friends and colleagues know me by) since I first signed up for Google+.

But do I understand you correctly — if I were to edit my name to something else that looks more like you what think is a common name, you would unblock my account? Would “Kathleen Richards” be acceptable, for example? Is it permissable to include my common name, the one everyone knows me by, as a middle name in quotation marks, like Brian “Fitz” Fitzpatrick (the Google staffer responsible for Google Takeout) does? If so, I would be willing to change my name to Kathleen “Skud” Richards, just to have my account reinstated.

I’ve updated my profile to match. Let’s see what comes of this. [Later: I switched back to Kirrily "Skud" Robert -- while I'm temporarily amused to troll them with a fake (but real-sounding) name like Kathleen Richards, I don't actually want it on my profile.]

In other news, I had lunch with my old colleagues at Google’s San Francisco office. This is the visitor badge that Google issued me with:

google visitor badge with Skud on it


Update, July 27th

Had drinks with Doc Popular and aestetix last night in San Francisco. They introduced themselves as “Doc” and “aestetix” respectively, and that is the name I know them by “in the real world”.

This morning, another useless email from “Ricky”:

The name you use in the name field must resemble your First and Last name. Any other name you use can be placed right below the names field in the nick names field where other users can still recognize you by that name.

Here’s my response:

Ricky, it has been five days and I am starting to lose patience. Please can you answer the following questions clearly, without evasion and without copy-pasting form letters:

1) I have repeatedly demonstrated that “Skud” is the name by which I am known by the vast majority of my acquaintance, through the webpage at http://infotrope.net/bio/my-name/ This page shows that I am known by Skud by my friends, co-workers, co-habitants, conference organisers, and Google itself (where I was an employee until July 15th). In what specific way does this fail to meet your standards of documentation?

2) If you won’t let me simply use “Skud” as my name on Google+, how would you advise me to edit my name to meet your requirements? I wish my common name, “Skud”, to be visible on all my posts and comments, but am prepared to use other names alongside “Skud” if it will help get past your rules. I suggest using: Kirrily “Skud” Robert. Is this acceptable?

(Please don’t bother telling me to use the “nickname” field, as it does not show on my posts and comments.)

3) If it is not acceptable for me to include the nickname “Skud” in quotation marks in my Google+ name (as, eg, Kirrily “Skud” Robert), due to punctuation marks being disallowed, can you please explain why others, such as Google engineer Brian “Fitz” Fitzpatrick (********@google.com, responsible for Google Takeout) are allowed to do so, and by what method a member of the public can gain a similar exemption.

If you cannot answer the above questions by yourself, please escalate this to your supervisor.


Update, July 28th

Yesterday a Googler friend of mine pointed out that the case I’ve documented in this blog post looks rather like this xkcd comic (click through for full size strip):

This morning, “Ricky” emailed me again to chirp, “I’m a server!” yet another time:

Hello,

To edit your name to comply with our Community Standards Policy can be
done so rather easily. Place the name Kirrily Roberts in the name field
and right below place your nickname”Skud” in the nick name field. Both
names will be visible to users and it solves the issue of complying with
our policy. If you wish to edit your name to comply please email me back.

Thank you,

Ricky

So now I’m pulling out the big guns. Everyone knows (don’t they?) that the only way to get support from Google is to contact people you know inside the organisation and get them to advocate on your behalf. I’ve held off from doing so until now because nobody should have to do that. It’s not fair on Googlers who have to deal with begging from friends who need help with stuff the Googler knows little about, and it’s not fair on customers that a company that provides such vital services as email, website hosting, and phone service should be able to cut services off without offering a clear and usable path to resolution.

But since it seems to be the only way, I emailed the following back to Ricky, and Cc’d Vic Gundotra (SVP Social), Bradley Horowitz (VP Product), Michael Hermeston (who I believe is in charge of G+ customer support), Natalie Villalobos (Google+ community manager), and a few others I know who work on Google+ identity issues (all of whom know me as Skud). I also Bcc’d it to a number of my friends at Google, encouraging them to disseminate it widely inside the company.

Ricky, this is now the sixth day without resolution.

Yesterday I asked you three questions, and specifically asked you to answer them clearly, without evasion, and without copy-pasting form letters — or if you weren’t able, to escalate to your supervisor. You didn’t answer them, so here they are again:

[redacted for brevity]

I am now escalating this to Google+ management and [redacted] in the hopes that my questions will be answered and my account reinstated, under my common name (“Skud”). Nobody should ever have to rely on Googler acquaintances to get them customer support, but since that does seem to be the only way, I’m taking it.

You need to fix this harmful, hypocritical policy and allow people to actually use “the names by which they are known”. Not just special-cases for celebrities and people who have friends at Google, but for everyone — transgender people, those from non-Western cultures, people with only one name, even people whose names you think look silly. Google shouldn’t be telling me what my “common name” is or isn’t. It should be supporting me and validating my identity, so that I can use its services happily and encourage others to do so as well.

Yours,

Skud

Syndicated 2011-07-23 02:18:37 from InfotropismInfotropism | Infotropism

A note to Google recruiters (and on Google hiring practices)

Writing this in part to let off steam, and in part so I can point the next recruiter at it.

Time from my leaving Google til getting the first unrelated contact from a Google recruiter: 6 days.

Interest I have in going through Google’s hiring process again: zero.

When Metaweb/Freebase was acquired by Google last year, we came in as part of the Search team. As a community/developer relations person, Search didn’t really have a place for me, but they brought me in on a fixed term offer, giving me a year to figure out how I might fit in at Google, perhaps by transferring my work to a more appropriate group or finding another role that made more sense.

I’m going to handwave a bit, but in short, we shuffled things around so that I could continue doing my job by moving to a more appropriate part of the organisation. And then I got to interview for my own job.

Now, I’m 100% confident that Google wouldn’t have hired me straight off the street. I knew when Metaweb was acquired that that was the only way I was likely to get in there, and I certainly appreciated the opportunity, but I wasn’t fooling myself: I’m not the sort of engineer that Google usually looks for.

You see, I don’t have a computer science degree from an elite university, or indeed any degree at all. I don’t have any pretensions toward being a computer scientist, though I’m familiar with enough of the concepts and terminology to be able to work with them. I’m more the type to know and use tools — preferably popular free and open source tools — that other people have built, but of course Google’s not very interested in that. I’ve also spent a lot of my time in the tech field on teaching, mentoring, encouraging software teams to adopt best practices, building relationships with other teams and with users of our software, advocating openness and transparency, and so forth, none of which Google’s hiring practices care about or look for. It’s all algorithm pop-quiz, and I’m crap at those.

I guess that’s why when I interviewed for my transfer, I was told I was “not technical enough” to do the job I’d been doing for 3 years already, supporting the Freebase community.

(True story: in my interview I was asked how I would extract entities from an HTML page. I suggested using OpenCalais (a free-as-in-beer API that does just that, and returns Freebase identifiers). If someone in the Freebase community wanted to do something like that, that’s exactly what I would have recommended. But the interviewer wanted to know how I would implement it myself. I told him I wouldn’t — that that’s why I was leaving the Search group for Developer Relations! Wrong answer, apparently.)

Look, it’s Google’s privilege and prerogative to hire whomever they want. And when your data centers are as huge as Google’s, and CPU time is quite literally more valuable than engineer time, hiring people who can optimise an algorithm to the Nth degree makes sense. (At least in core engineering roles; whether it’s necessary for developer relations, product management, or any of the many other roles where Google generally wants computer science grads is much less clear.) There are plenty of fresh-faced kids from Stanford and MIT and whatever other elite universities are on Google’s preferred list, who can solve stupid puzzles and tell you the O notation of anything you want. Go hire them. They’ll have a great time working for you. They’ll probably be so excited to interview at Google that they won’t even care that the people interviewing them aren’t the people they’ll be working with, that they won’t be told what projects they’ll work on, or that their passions and interests and abilities outside of solving Sudoku in linear time will be flattened out by a hiring process that represents them as interchangable cogs in the machine.

But if you are a Google recruiter, and you want me to interview for SWE or SRE or any role that has an algorithm pop quiz as part of the interview, if you want me to apply for something without knowing what team I’ll be working on and whether it meshes with my values and goals and interests, if you want me to go through your quite frankly humiliating interview process just to be told that my skills and qualifications — which you could have found perfectly easily if you’d bothered to actually look before spamming me — aren’t suitable for any of the roles you have available, then just DON’T.

If you’re any other recruiter, then you should read the following:

Mural: Capitalism is over if you want it

ObMural: a new one in Clarion Alley (Mission District, San Francisco), spotted a week or so ago, though I don't know when it went up.

Syndicated 2011-07-21 21:44:56 from InfotropismInfotropism | Infotropism

Announcing the ozmusicrescue saveaussiemusic mailing list

In re: yesterday’s post about saving Australian music from obscurity, I have now set up the saveaussiemusic mailing list so we can start discussing the project.

I posted the following in my welcome message, laying out the shape and scope of the project as I see it, and I’m including them here for easy reference (and so this post is more than a paragraph long).

1. The scope of this project is “independent and hard-to-find Australian music”. (My current personal interests are in the indie/alternative/punk/post-punk/etc sort of genres, but I see no reason to limit it to that.)

2. The goal is to make information about this music, and (eventually/hopefully/ideally) the music itself available as freely and openly as possible, to maximise the possibility of people being able to spread the love. To this end we will release everything we can under open source and open content licenses — ideally CC-0 for content and a permissive open source license for any code we create.

3. I want us to use existing infrastructure where possible, rather than creating our own. To that end, I think we should be putting structured data into repositories like MusicBrainz, encyclopedic content into Wikipedia, digital archive material into the Internet Archive, etc. We should give strong preference to data/content repositories that are run by long-term stable non-profits, whose data/content is accessible via open APIs, and whose data/content is widely used by third parties. This will make our material more accessible to the world at large, and won’t wear out our volunteers on maintaining our own servers and databases.

4. This project needs to work within the bounds of copyright law as it currently exists. I personally think said copyright law is deeply deeply flawed, but I also don’t want to be sued into oblivion. So when it comes to media archives, we need to think innovatively and come up with legal ways to do it.

5. We should partner, where possible, with other projects and organisations with similar goals. This can range from public libraries and archives, to groups like Creative Commons, to (just a blue-sky example) crowdfunding organisations like pozible.com.au. Partnering will get us more exposure and awareness of our project, and also save us from reinventing the wheel.

6. We need to involve people from a range of backgrounds: musicians, fans, librarians and archivists, coders, journalists and zinesters, everyone. I want us to share knowledge/skills and make this something that all sorts of people can take part in, regardless of technical background, profession, or degree of indie cred.

Another thing I would say, as a sort of high-level description of the project, is this: librarians talk a lot about preservation and access. This project needs to consider both of those, plus awareness. We should be making people aware of Australian music, and of the set of issues that prompted this project in the first place.

Anyway, if that sounds interesting to you, please join the saveaussiemusic mailing list.

ObRandomPhoto: stencil art on the sidewalk near my house in the Mission District, San Francisco. I was wearing exactly the right sneakers that day.

Syndicated 2011-07-07 05:18:45 from InfotropismInfotropism | Infotropism

It’s like textfiles.com for Australian indie music

EDITED TO ADD: Please see this followup post, and subscribe to the saveaussiemusic mailing list if you’re interested in this project.

So I’ve been thinking about this project for a while, and it doesn’t have a name, but I wanted to tell you about it anyway. At least I have my startup-style it’s X for Y pitch: it’s like textfiles.com for Australian indie music.

Tweet by mendel: @Skud "Like what for Australian indie music?" "Like the Web Archive of BBS era text files, for Australian indie music." "The web what?" :D

Yeah, well, let me explain.

For background, I’d better start by saying I was pretty terminally uncool, music-wise, in the 80s and early 90s. My family weren’t big on following popular music, I lived somewhere with no decent record stores, records were priced out of my range, and even at school the kids I hung with weren’t hip enough to make mix tapes of anything much but Top 40 stuff. Despite this, I somehow got exposed to a certain amount of Australian indie and alternative music. I say “somehow” because I honestly don’t know where I heard most of this stuff. I guess 3XY and EON-FM, early on. Later, I listened to a lot of Triple J, and watched Rage.

These days, of course, I get most of my musical knowledge and exposure from the Interwebs, and the availability of digital downloads and information about musicians is really helping me backfill a lot of the older Australian music I wish I’d known better at the time.

Like, for example, The Go-Betweens, a Brisbane indie band that I was only faintly aware of until a few years ago, when Grant McLennan died and many of my friends online were expressing sadness at his passing. Of course I quickly figured out that they were part of the soundtrack of my childhood and teens, I just didn’t know them.

The Go-Betweens were pretty well known, and it’s not hard to find their albums, but a lot of equally important Australian music from the 70s to 90s is no longer readily obtainable. Much of it’s not available for (legal) digital download. In many cases CDs are out of print, or there may never have been a CD release, and the only version is vinyl mouldering in someone’s garage. Even information about older Australian music is hard to find: now-defunct labels and publications don’t have websites, and bands that would otherwise pass Wikipedia’s notability guidelines often don’t have articles because it’s so hard to find sources/citations. Only a handful of hobbyist websites and generous-hearted bloggers are keeping vast swathes of our musical heritage alive.

So why did this happen? Well, obscure music is always hard to find. That’s what makes it obscure. But in Australia even a bunch of pretty well known stuff, stuff I grew up on in my no-hipster-cred-whatsoever suburban youth, is rare as hen’s teeth now. For some reason, music that was released on the Mushroom and Festival labels was particularly likely to have this problem. So I asked around, and learnt that those labels, which had released some of the best music of my adolescence, had been consumed first by News Corp and then by Warner, who didn’t care enough to keep the back-catalogs available. I don’t even know how many smaller labels were caught up in this, but I’m guessing plenty.

(The good news is that this seems to be clearing up a little now. More stuff seems to be available in iTunes since last time I checked, and I hear that Warner recently sold back Flying Nun Records (NZ) to the original owners. So there is hope.)

So here’s what I want to do. I’d like to start a project for people — techies, music nerds, archivists, whoever — to come together and work on projects to preserve and disseminate (information about) Australian music, in as free and open a manner as possible: open source code, creative commons licenses, non-commercial and optimised for maximum sharing and reuse.

First project (something I’ve been meaning to do anyway) is to extract pertinent facts about artists, albums, and labels from a variety of online sources (such as, for example, the archived website of The Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop) and use it to update MusicBrainz (and from there, hundreds of sites and apps that use MusicBrainz’s data).

Then I’d like to make sure that any Australian musical acts that are sufficiently notable have Wikipedia entries. In many cases this will mean grovelling through pre-Internet dead trees publications, but I’m going to be in Australia and probably unemployed through the summer and I hear that libraries have air conditioning and Internet access these days, so that actually sounds quite pleasant. Along the way, I hope to make a resource list for other Australians who’d like to do the same thing: which libraries have useful collections of music periodicals? Who’s got zines or clippings they’ll scan if you contact them? What online archives already exist for you to trawl through? That sort of thing.

Those two projects are pretty simple, but they’re important because free, open-licensed online resources will be the foundation for later projects. I don’t even know what these later projects are, yet; I just know that having the information out there will make them easier.

So, I’ll take a shot at MusicBrainz and Wikipedia regardless of whether anyone else is interested. I suspect that lots of people are interested, though, and that with a sufficient number and variety of participants there are a lot of other, more ambitious things we could try.

So I’m looking for coders, open data nerds, Wikimedians, librarians and archivists, scholars, music journalists, zinesters, fans, broadcasters, copyright law experts, free culture advocates, and past and present musicians, producers, promoters, and label folks who might be interested in this project. I’m planning to set up a mailing list and/or website for it, so leave a comment below with your email address (which will be hidden, not shown to the public) and I’ll let you know when there’s something to join.

Also, still looking for a name. Ideas welcome.

EDITED TO ADD: Please see this followup post, and subscribe to the saveaussiemusic mailing list if you’re interested in this project.


Image credit: the image used on the front page of infotrope.net to link to this post is a collage of clips from Party Fears, a Perth music zine from the 80s-90s now archived online by its creator, David Gerard.

Syndicated 2011-07-05 21:12:46 from InfotropismInfotropism | Infotropism

Backup advice sought

The serious sysadmins of my acquaintance may wish to avert their eyes from the following, or risk being horrified by my heretofore laissez-faire attitude to backups.

For the past mumble years, my backup needs have been minimal. I have had a small amount of personal data that I cared about on my Macbook, my email (in GMail), a web hosting account with my websites and some other crap on it, and source code to certain coding projects (mostly open source). Thus, my backup solution has been:

  • offlineimap to regularly pull down copies of my GMail to my laptop
  • rsync backup of my web host to my laptop
  • source code kept in version control systems somewhere on the interwebs (currently in the process of moving most of my stuff to GitHub, using a private account for the non-open-source projects)
  • Time Machine backup of my laptop to external hard drive

This has suited me just fine. Of course if my house burns down, taking my laptop and external hard drive with it, I’ll lose some stuff — the music I have in iTunes, some fanvids I’m working on, years and years worth of collected porn — but whatever, it’s all replaceable, none of it’s mission-critical. The most important things to me are my email, websites, and source code, and I feel pretty comfortable about where they’re at.

Now I’m moving into an area where my work is going to take up more space than source code does. I recorded some demos for a band a while ago, just a couple of hours of stuff, and the folder where I’m keeping the project is 4GB. A larger recording project could easily take orders of magnitude more space than that. And unless I want some nasty surprises, I’m going to want to back it up properly.

I’m also going to be in Australia, land of overpriced, download-capped Internet (sample ADSL+ plans from a decent Australian ISP; I’m likely to share something in the middle of that range with a housemate or two). So, given the amount of data I’m likely to have, I don’t think cloud-based backup options will work well for me. I mean, imagine a situation where I have to do a full restore of half a terabyte of data or something — it would be completely infeasible.

So, in my situation, what would you do? Remember that I’m going to be on a student-ish budget for the next couple of years.

I’m thinking I’ll just get a couple of larger drives for Time Machine, keep one at home and one somewhere else, and switch them every so often. Additional to this, maybe a smallish cloud-based backup solution for “current projects” — hopefully just in the tens of GB at any given time, costing under $20/month. What do you think?

art wall near 23rd and Valencia

Random photo du jour: art wall near 23rd and Valencia. I photographed this a couple of weeks ago, and two days later, the whole thing had been painted over by some asshole taggers.

Syndicated 2011-07-05 02:27:46 from InfotropismInfotropism | Infotropism

Amsterdam. The weather's much nicer than Ottawa -- not too hot, not too humid -- though it has been raining a bit.

YAPC::Europe has been really good so far. I've attended heaps of talks, some of which were great and some of which I more or less slept through. Mornings aren't treating me well... jetlag, I guess... so I haven't really been awake in many of the morning sessions.

I've been spending a lot of time with, uh, Special Agent Fishpants, which has been extremely pleasant, but I suppose might also go towards explaining the sleep deprivation. Most amusing side effect: being asked "Do you program Perl, or are you just here with your boyfriend?" at the speaker's dinner the other night.

Got good responses to both my talks (e-smith yesterday and Reefknot today) but I have to admit I'm sick of both of them. I'll have to shelve the Reefknot one until we've got a heap more to show, and I think I want to do a big rewrite on the e-smith one.

Amsterdam itself is a nicish city, but I'm not sure whether I'd actually like to live here. It's a bit dirty, for one thing. But it was fun walking around all of central Amsterdam looking for bars and restaurants and stuff. The overall impression is of canals and mad bicyclists. Traffic here is crazy. Must be the drugs.

One of the things I notice as I travel is that every place has its own local quasi-monopoly on toilet door locks. There's usually a certain type of lock which is used almost exclusively in institutions. In Australia it's got a wingnut-type handle that you turn about 180 degrees, which flips a little sign outside from "vacant" to "occupied". In Canada it's similar but a) has no little sign outside, and b) only turns about 30 degrees. The smaller turn freaked me out at first because it didn't seem *closed* to me. Here in Amsterdam the common type of handle/lock is a really serious lever-style handle and a quarter-turn lock.

And on that note, I should probably continue my old "airport ratings" thing:

  • Heathrow: 4/10 (good shopping and facilities, but horribly overcrowded and too many widely dispersed terminals)
  • Schipol: 9/10 (clean, good facilities, fast customs, good public transportation)

Today's annoyance is that I appear not to have a PIN for my Visa card, so I can't get any more cash out. It wouldn't be a problem except that I'm reliably informed that I *really* want to buy a t-shirt at the auction this afternoon. The t-shirts are from the "Bondage and Discipline: stricter than strict.pm" talk, so chances are that I will want one :)

I'm back from San Diego and mostly recovered after 14 hours' sleep. The best thing about the trip, I think, was that having a party in our penthouse suite every night was immensely sanity-restoring. I've spent the last few years involved in Serious Pursuits[tm] and I thought for a while there that perhaps I'd grown up. Waking up each morning to find empty bottles and unconscious norwegians all over my hotel room made me remember that I can still have fun. Yay.

Who *was* that Norwegian, anyway? He passed out in one of our chairs, so we just put a "do not disturb" sign on him and left him there overnight. He was gone by the time we were heading out for that morning's sessions. Someone said it was Ask Bjoern Hansen, but Ask's not that blonde.

I was thinking about this diary this morning. I've realised that I'm avoiding writing personal stuff in it, and that means that when I have a lot of personal stuff going on I just don't write in it at all. So I'm wondering whether I should start publishing some of that stuff.

There are two issues I have to consider here. The first is that some people who read this diary might not want to hear about this stuff. I know that my Dad and some other family members read this, or might read it. I also know that most of the people on Advogato are probably reading it for the open source perspective rather than the Days-Of-Our-Lives details. The second issue is the privacy of other people who figure in my personal life.

So here's what I think I'll do:

  1. I'll start talking about what's happening on the personal side of my life
  2. I'll remove Advogato from my default recipients, but specifically choose it from the list when I write stuff that's more related to software. If anyone over there wants to read the personal stuff, they can get it from my webpage or subscribe to the mailing list
  3. Dad and any other family etc who read this can just get used to hearing about those parts of my life. It's probably a good thing for them to know who I really am anyway, and if they can't deal with it then I guess they're lucky that they're on the other side of the world and don't have to read it :)
  4. Anyone who gets a mentioned on a personal level will be slightly obfuscated by just using their initials or referring to them as "a friend" or something. That means that if a reader happens to know who they are anyway, they'll be able to figure it out, but complete strangers won't hear all about them, and a random web search isn't going to show them up.

If anyone has any opinions on this, please let me know. This especially applies to friends who might have issues with me mentioning them in my diary.

Oh yeah. Dad wanted the URL to the article about the e-smith acquisition that mentions my name. Here it is: <a href="http://e-smith.com/article.php3?sid=51

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