Saturday, August 9, 2008

WikiCafe: Can you say "hypocrisy"?

Metacafe is one of Youtube's competitors, a video hosting service that is a distant second to Youtube in popularity (if even that), which is perhaps best known for the number of women one can see naked on it without needing to log in. Having thus distinguished itself in one way, Metacafe decided to stand out in another, a few months ago. It decided to become the first major video hosting service to wikify the descriptions, titles and tags for the videos it hosted.

Wikification is an extreme thing to do to existing webspace. Think of the complaint that used to be directed against Blogger, back some time before I started posting on it: that there was no comment moderation. That any troll could come along and drop any number of outrageous remarks that he wanted, and that the author of a blog would have to play the proverbial game of whackamole to keep his blog clean if the troll got his friends involved. I understand that there was some real unhappiness about that lack of screening, which I could easily understand, and as Blogger eventually did understand - note that comment screening is now an option - but picture what the experience would have been like if far from having to settle for just leaving rude remarks, they could rewrite one's posts or delete them altogether. That's what wikification is - taking the bad concept of denying the user effective control over the comment section of a page, and pushing it to the point of letting the trolls barge their way into the page itself.

I posted a few questions about this change on the Metacafe company blog, reprinting my comment in a post to one of my Googlegroups, having found that Metacafe's staff seemed to have gone deeply into "do as we say and not as we do" territory. I had asked if the users would be able to opt out of having the "metainformation" on their posts wikified. Lurking in their forums, I found that the answer to this would seem to be no - no live and let live with their users on this one, the Metacafe staff was going to force this experiment on all, whether they wished to take part in it or not. "Give it a chance, it might work for you", they said. But take a look at that company blog. These same people who forced their users to admit all other users as collaborators, "come one, come all, whether I want you to or not", with no prescreening of changes, wouldn't even open the comment section of their blog in that manner. Which seems more extreme - not having control over what somebody posts after one's words, or not having control over one's words, themselves?

Some weeks have passed, more posts have appeared atop the Metacafe company blog, but my comment (which was left awaiting moderation) still has not appeared, and as you can see for yourself, it doesn't even come remotely close to qualifying as trolling. While I am not saying that comment moderation is censorship - I practice it myself, and with good reason - I am saying that there is something kind of questionable about forcing others to do that which one isn't willing to do, even to a diminished extent, oneself. "Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander" is a cliche for a good reason; if one is unwilling to do something, and one feels that there is a good reason for that, why do those good reasons suddenly evaporate when somebody else stands to be inconvenienced?

When somebody posts about what some would dismiss as being "the unfairness of life", the usual refrain is "what can you do", but in this case, there is a simple answer. Youtube's traffic dwarfs that of Metacafe, and they haven't denied their users the freedom to post without being interfered with by any busybody who feels he has the right to second guess their creative choices, and the willingness to get into a test of wills about the matter. Usually, the problem in getting a provider to behave itself is one of asking a group of total strangers to cooperate in giving something up - the use of a valued service - in exchange for the deferred gratification of better service (should the other boycotters stick together and get the provider to back down, but getting more traffic and more creative freedom in exchange for having fewer headaches isn't much of a sacrifice, temporary or otherwise. In this case, the greatest good is worked by the users going out and seeking immediate gratification, which in this case can be found on Youtube and a number of other video hosting services for free.

So really, why not pursue it? Metacafe is not being nice about this, and they have no leverage other than that which their users are foolish enough to give to them. Let's hope that they'll decide to not let that be very much.