Facebook, Drag Queens and some Internet History

In the beginning, there was this:

“On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

In 1993, getting on the Internet was a chore. You had to have a modem and a land line, and a contract with some sort of service provider: Compuserve, Prodigy, Delphi, AOL and GEnie were the popular choices. You could create an account on any or all of these services, use your modem to dial in to their service (long distance charges may apply), and create an identity for yourself out there in the big, vast Wild West days of the internet. It didn’t matter who you were; as long as you paid your service bill and didn’t engage in unlawful activities, you were given the freedom to name yourself and portray yourself as you pleased.

Of course, social abuse easily occurs in such an unregulated space. Just about as soon as dial-up and IRC chatrooms were invented, creepers disguising as teenage girls began to haunt those chatrooms in the hope of seducing the unwary. Usenet groups such as alt.erotica.binaries sprang up, and the technically savvy types of the day could get their hands on free porn (providing they wanted to wait a long time for the data to download). The internet was perceived as a fantastic new innovation, filled with tremendous promise – but beware of the seedy corners where danger lurks.

Dangers such as unregulated, uncensored freedom of speech.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not an advocate of allowing lawbreakers on the ‘net to get a pass under the blanket of free speech protection. I am an advocate for free expression however, and if role playing and assumed identities and anonymous fun and frolic between consenting adults is your thing, then have at it baby.

I posit that the wish for security, anonymity and the right to self-represent however one chooses to is part of the essential DNA of the Internet, and that these rights are under threat and being subverted by the biggest social network of all time, Facebook.

Facebook hates anonymity, and the reason is probably as simple as: if Facebook knows who you are and where you live, it can guarantee to its advertisers that they can reach YOU. Not your internet-dog-alias, not your drag-queen-alter-ego. You. Guaranteed. No argument. Your government-registered, backed-by-a-social-security-number sweet-ass self.

Facebook has a magical algorithm that converts that information to cash, and it really doesn’t want any of us – we, the people – to mess with that. To that end, they make each and every one of us agree to the following:

Under ‘Safety’:

You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory.

Under ‘Registration and Account Security’:

Facebook users provide their real names and information, and we need your help to keep it that way. Here are some commitments you make to us relating to registering and maintaining the security of your account:

You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission.
You will not create more than one personal account.
If we disable your account, you will not create another one without our permission.
You will not use your personal timeline primarily for your own commercial gain, and will use a Facebook Page for such purposes.
You will keep your contact information accurate and up-to-date.
If you select a username or similar identifier for your account or Page, we reserve the right to remove or reclaim it if we believe it is appropriate (such as when a trademark owner complains about a username that does not closely relate to a user's actual name).

There’s a lot of other interesting stuff there – I just pulled the conditions that pertain to the points that I am trying to make. I urge everyone to go and read the whole thing. It’s much easier to read and understand than Apple’s App Store Terms and Conditions.

The basic point is: you promised to use your real name when you signed up for Facebook.

Here’s where it gets really morally slippery and sloppy, and extremely interesting.

My next postulation is: on the internet, people will agree to anything – usually in under five seconds – in order to get what they want, regardless of what they are actually agreeing to in order to get it. Call this the “ignorance of the law” excuse.

I know that I have routinely agreed to things like Apple’s Terms and Conditions without slogging through the entire document. Usually, I am in a grand hurry to hear a piece of music play, and somehow iTunes has updated itself and the terms have changed and I find myself involved in a five-minute battle with the device just trying to get sound out of it. Apparently I missed the fine print where it says Apple has the right to put U2’s new Coldplay album on my iPad – and that’s because they make the document very long and jargony and complicated and look – all I really want is to hear is my Sly and the Family Stone cut that would make me feel good right about now SO I’M JUST GOING TO CLICK AGREE DAMMIT!

If I were to quiz you narrowly on the T’s and C’s for Twitter, Pintrest, Reddit, iTunes, Amazon, eBay, all the stuff you probably signed up for online – what do you think your score would be? I’ll freely admit that if I got above 25% correct, it would be because I guessed the right answers by leaning towards the most profitable answer for the licensor and the least favorable for the licensee, which would be me.

I think that most people enter into these contracts truly believing that they will not be enforced. Maybe it’s a little bit of “they’ll never know, it’s just little old me” mixed with some “they wouldn’t dare to shut me out – they want my business!” – with an added dash of “how can they possibly enforce any sanctions?”

With me so far? OK. Let’s talk a little about drag queens.

First of all, the “drag queen” label grabs headlines fairly easily, and provides plenty of glamorous visuals to boot. It’s easy for the media – social and otherwise – to want to make the Queens the poster-women for the Facebook Real Name Dispute. And so it has come to pass.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the transgender community either gets tarred with the Drag Queen Brush or gets completely ignored. There are many, many members of that community who have – for whatever good reason they have – chosen to hide their “government name” and adopt a name of their own choosing. Not to mention other communities, which granted may be primarily populated with performers – but performers who choose to create their one frank and true identity on Facebook under their non-government name.

Why not simply go and change your legal name, you ask? Well, some do, and some don’t, and they have their good reasons why they don’t, and the point here is that their good reasons are none of your business. It’s a basic privacy issue.

When I was a young lad, the gay community was so much more hidden and repressed and closeted than it is nowadays. Us old-timers have not lost sight of this, and though these United States have come a long way, there is still a long way to go. Gay marriage is not universally legal, and unspeakable homophobic prejudice and violence is still inflicted upon GLBT people all the time, every day, everywhere.

But back to drag queens, since they are fabulous, and the time when I was a young lad. Queens assumed non-government names in order to protect themselves, in order to keep their jobs, in order to keep their families, in order not to lose the benefits of living in society, in order to protect themselves. We have not come such a long way that this is no longer the case. So, one might argue that assuming a drag-o-nym is a fun, fancy and traditional way to enhance a drag persona, I would argue back that the need for safety still exists in this society, and the tradition is not born out of fancy, but out of necessity. Besides, it’s none of your business. See above.

Sure, many ‘drag queens’ are performers, and maybe it is appropriate for them to migrate to Facebook Fan Pages. But not all transgender people are performers, and so it does not make sense for them to be forced to have a Fan Page instead of a Plain Old Page.

I think that Facebook’s “one person, one account tied to the person’s birth name” policy is cloying and entirely driven by the marketing interests of industry. It smells of Big Brother-like totalitarianism, where the identities of the constituents of the state are tightly regulated and the populace is highly scrutinized. I think it is ultimately dangerous and highly invasive of people’s privacy.

But then, you signed away that privacy when you joined Facebook – despite their rather ludicrous “Data Use Policy”.

Oh, and should you come to any harm because your true identity somehow is revealed on Facebook, I leave you to consider this, from the Facebook Terms of Service:



I think that Facebook will eventually implode under its own weight, once the next generation realizes how square and stuffy and flawed it really is and fails to participate. But that’s a topic for a different post.

Barefoot children

I’m thinking hard about a site redesign for my minimalist, boring link page casually known as sendai77.com. The problem is me of course: i’m the client, the writer, the designer, the technical consultant, the developer, and the cobbler.

More about me: I’m a busy consultant for IBM. I use the word “consultant” loosely: in the Global Services branch where I serve, we’re all consultants, so I sort of can’t avoid the moniker. But a more accurate description of what I do is “IT Specialist – RIA Developer”, which, translated into Ordinary American, means I make web pages. True, I try to get on the slick projects that require Flash or Flex, but since I’m a sub genus of Consultant, I go where the work takes me.

But that’s not all. In my less lazy off-hours, I’m a musician, painter and photographer. I try my hand at songwriting and composing, and I’m not a bad cook to boot. My pals tell me that I have a “very full life”, which may be a way of saying I take on too much.

Given that, you’d think I’d have a smashing, wildly self-promoting web presence. Well, I don’t. Maybe I never will – maybe it’ll always amount to what LimeyG referred to as a few “sad, lonely blogs” which are perennially neglected.

I had a long discussion with Viv yesterday on the topic of blogs and topics. See, I feel that one WordPress is not enough. My infrequent rantings tend to jump categories, and it’s my personal feeling that WP does an inadequate job of fully presenting multi-topic content. Instead, users are force to pick the content channel out of the raging stream (or in my case, pathetic trickle) and apply the Category Filter technique of content sifting to arrive at a page that sieves the stream into, well, categories, which are basically akin to del.icio.us tags.

Well, I guess there’s nothing wrong with that…. except I’d like to write a music blog and a technology blog and a somewhat-related-but-entirely-new-thread user experience blog – in short, I sort ofwant more silos, each with the ability to categorize within themselves – and possibly out to each other.

One answer may be to skin my own WordPress in such a way that it reacts the way I want it to.

Viv suggest that I redesign my site. What I’m describing is basically a one-person magazine.

That brings up the spectre of Content Management….

So am I going to put the yellow “Digger Dude” sign up on sendai77.com? I’d rather just unveil the new site when it’s ready, rather than titllating the 1.5 readers I’ve got and letting them down when they realize that “Coming Soon” means “Coming By The Time The Sox Get To The World Series Again”.

Anyone seen my kids anywhere? There’s the barefoot ones.

Off to Onboarding

Today I travel to Fairfax, Virginia to check in and prepare for tomorrow’s intake ceremonies at IBM. Thus commences a new chapter in my professional life. The Onboardiad is scheduled to last a week.

I’m struck by this composite word, which has been wrangled into acting like a verb, much like planing and deplaning, which I shall shortly do. “What did you do last week?” “I onboarded at IBM.” “Ah, nice.” I’m not sure I can imagine a younger person approaching me and saying, “Sweet, dude, you onboarded. Way to go.” There’s just not enough skater or punk in the term for my money. But I’ve heard several adults use it with a straight face recently, so I’m gonna let it go by. Best to start off life as a team player.

Don’t think though that I’m not taking this event seriously, all jibes at corporate jargon aside. I am eager to consume the content that awaits me. All the prep literature hints at a week of getting dipped by the heel in the river of corporate culture and values, and I’m hoping to somehow emerge with a smidgen of invulnerability, or at least more than a shred of confidence that I can do this gig well. All my recent bench time has been getting to me lately.

Last night I haunted Jamaica Plain after watching the Red Sox clinch their playoff berth. Aside: will the Sox ever learn to pull their pitcher before it’s too late? Daisuke went in to the seventh with 98 pitches under his belt and proceeded to put two men on, which resulted in our losing the lead, albeit temporarily. But I personally never put much stock in counting on twin home runs in the top of the ninth, especially with the Yanks so close in the rear-view mirror. Anyway, Jamaica Plain. It was balmy and kind of misty, and parties spilled out onto the sidewalks, and noise from the pubs floated in the air. I sought the Pond and took a lap around it, talking myself into relaxing and going with it, this new job. Once I get the rhythm of it down, I’ll understand where the music fits in. I guess I’m just scared that if this gig is too all-consuming or demanding, I’ll have no time to do any serious playing.

Jukebox in the sky

The Washington Post informs us that Wal-Mart is undercutting iTunes in the marketplace by engaging in a price war over non-copy-restricted mp3s.

I can’t help but shake my head and feel the coming rain in my bones. You see, I’m old enough to remember the sensation of flipping through 12″ vinyl records every weekend when I had accumulated enough allowance or chore money to go on a spender. Albums were it – sure, there were cassettes and eight-tracks, but albums are what sounded the best, providing they weren’t covered in dust or scratches. I had friends with expensive, complicated record cleaning systems and expensive, very sensitive turntables. They would perform a strange, assiduous little ceremony every time they’d throw something on. It was funny to see how the ritual deteriorated as the evening wore on and we got weighed down with beer and talk and stuff. I tended towards the cheap-and-loud systems, myself.

In case you didn’t get the memo, iPods and their ilk are out. They will be as obsolete as the buggy whip and the cassette Walkman by 2010. Everything will converge on the cell phone, as competitors rush to market with their version of the iPhone. Enjoy them pods while you can, before their batteries die.

Is there any good news in all of this? Maybe. Apparently, sound quality will improve. That’s a plus for the listener. But how about for the independent artist? What’s the future model for fame, success and in-store appearances? Will you be seeing Nickelback at a Wal-Mart near you sometime soon?

UI violation

I wish I could hand out violation tickets on the web. But since I can’t, I think I’ll rant a little instead.

I don’t know about you, but I get really annoyed when a designer decides to resize your browser window for you.

Why does this annoy me, I asked myself? Am I being unreasonable?

Well, I guess the answer is that I am selfish. After all, I’m the one who chose to use Firefox instead of Safari. I’m the one who chose to go Apple instead of Dell. I installed my own RAM. I installed my own wireless router. I’m in control here, I know what I’m doing. I parse out my screen real estate carefully when I am working. I’ve got a browser window shoved here, a text editor on the other side, Flash windows and palettes all over the place (that’s another UI story), chat windows, email… No wonder I feel stingy with my screen space.

My screen space: that says it right there. I feel proprietary. I’ve gone to the trouble to arrange all my windows just so… and then some cocky designer decides to take control of my desktop and mess it all up for me. Why, I ask you, Mister-or-Mizz designer? Because you authored a Flash presentation that’s 871 pixels wide, and you want to make sure there’s enough white space around it to make it look like Yoko Ono’s living room?

OK, rant over. Thanks for listening. I feel much better now.

Resume on line

Stop the presses?

OK, well, I haven’t told you the cool part. The cool part that’s so… last year.

I’m looking at my resume, which is in Word, and I’m thinking, “This is so lame. I’m supposed to be a technology/marketing/creative dude, and all I have to show for all that is this Word document?” So, I decided to rewrite my resume in XML. That way, I can write XSLTs to generate whatever I want. I could even post my resume as an RSS feed – if I wanted to do such a thing.

But seriously – I’m planning on writing a transform that’ll output the vital info from the resume into a format that I can feed into Flash. I’ve also got a plan for writing a DHTML version. Stay tuned…