Do I still need to use the www in URLs?

By Nick Holmes on March 26, 2018
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Filed under Linking

Website address by Descrier

In March’s Internet Newsletter for Lawyers:

The answer to the question “Do I still need to use the www in URLs?” is, of course, “It depends.” It depends on the context.

Read on.

Big Tech and AI in 2017

By Nick Holmes on February 9, 2018
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Filed under Artificial intelligence, Big Internet, Twitter

Lollipop is coming by Guiseppe Milo

I recently posted a review of What we learned in 2017 on Internet Newsletter for Lawyers. Here are my bits from it and a few extracts from contributors.

It has been apparent for some time that the biggest tech companies, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Twitter, have grown too large for our collective good. 2017 was the year we finally started trying to figure out how to do something about that.

Trolling and fake news

Paul Bernal writes that 2017 was a year when trolling and fake news started to get serious attention:

“My key takeaway from 2017 [is that] both fake news and trolling, rather than being anomalies or abuses of social media, are pretty much inevitable results of the business models and practices of our social media companies. They’re using the systems as they’re intended to be used: creating and sharing stories and information, targeted at people who show interest in the subject (fake news), or interacting and discussing subjects of interest, in an open and emotional way (trolling).

If we want to seriously deal with either fake news or trolling, we would need to fundamentally reconstruct our social media. I don’t think anyone has the appetite for that.”

Free speech?

Zeynep Tufekci writes in Wired that the flow of the world’s attention is dominated by just a few digital platforms: Facebook, Google, and, to a lesser extent, Twitter and argues that our methods of media regulation are not sufficient.

“These companies – which love to hold themselves up as monuments of free expression – have attained a scale unlike anything the world has ever seen; they’ve come to dominate media distribution, and they increasingly stand in for the public sphere itself. But at their core, their business is mundane: They’re ad brokers. To virtually anyone who wants to pay them, they sell the capacity to precisely target our eyeballs.”

Zeynep argues that in reality social media posts are targeted and delivered privately, screen by screen; mass discourse has become “a set of private conversations happening behind … everyone’s backs [which] invalidates much of what we think about free speech – conceptually, legally, and ethically.”

Read more in It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech by Zeynep Tufekci in Wired.

Too big to regulate

Roger McNamee writes in Washington Monthly, that thanks to the US government’s laissez-faire approach to regulation, the dominant internet platforms have been able to pursue business strategies that would not have been allowed in prior decades.

“No one stopped them from using free products to centralize the internet and then replace its core functions. No one stopped them from siphoning off the profits of content creators. No one stopped them from gathering data on every aspect of every user’s internet life. No one stopped them from amassing market share not seen since the days of Standard Oil. No one stopped them from running massive social and psychological experiments on their users. No one demanded that they police their platforms. It has been a sweet deal.”

Most of us would agree with McNamee that “Facebook and Google are now so large that traditional tools of regulation may no longer be effective.”

Read more in How to Fix Facebook – Before It Fixes Us by Roger McNamee in Washington Monthly.

Twitter v LinkedIn

Brian Inkster writes that in 2017 he grew to like LinkedIn a lot more:

“I felt it had evolved and come into its own. It is being used far more effectively as a networking/interaction tool than used to be the case. I notice that posts I put out on LinkedIn invariably get more traction and interaction than the same post on Twitter. The spam that used to come via Groups on LinkedIn is a thing of the past although LinkedIn have recently announced a focus on ‘re-integrating Groups back into the core LinkedIn experience’. Connections and referrals are being made on LinkedIn in a way that used to happen on Twitter but no longer seems to happen on there in the same way.”

Twitter matures

My own view is that Twitter’s purpose, other than to make a lot of money for its founders and investors, is very different from LinkedIn’s. It is very much geared towards reporting current developments and reacting to and analysing their importance. Of course, it does depend on which bubble you inhabit as to how deep or trivial are the issues under discussion and how useful or annoying are the replies. For professionals, and lawyers in particular, it offers rich seams of discussion and expert analysis of the sort we used to associate only with meatier articles and blog posts. Two recent developments on the platform have helped.

The maximum tweet length has been increased from 140 to 280 characters. The original restriction encouraged brevity and creativity, but it was so restrictive that it also encouraged less beneficial practices. The longer limit, whilst initially bemoaned by the old school, appears to have been well received.

Twitter “threads” have been officially adopted. Like a number of Twitter features, threads were an innovation by users rather than by Twitter itself. Linking together a sequence of tweets turns out to be a very effective way of developing an argument, telling a story and so on. Threads have very quickly established themselves as a literary form well deployed by lawyers.

Machine learning

By the end of the year we’d learned that much of what we term AI, and certainly much of the AI that is actually being implemented in legal practice, is principally based on machine learning. Give a machine a lot of data and it will learn from it and then apply that knowledge going forward in a virtuous cycle. For example, in the legal sphere we have machines taking over from overworked junior lawyers in conducting document review. So machines are doing the drudge work in an important but fairly narrow field. Is this really intelligence? They are also being used to predict the likely outcome of cases based on precedent. And in the US, AI is risk assessing offenders and even sentencing criminals. What could possibly go wrong?

Algorithms

We learned a fair bit about algorithms in the last year. “Algorithm” is really just a geeky word for “set of rules”. We were previously probably most familiar with the term in relation to Google; its PageRank algorithm was much talked about. In fact Google deploys thousands of algorithms in determining how to rank pages in its results.

Facebook and Twitter use algorithms to decide what to put in your news feed and what ads to show you. Uber uses algorithms to decide which driver to match to your ride and how much to charge when demand exceeds supply. These are all decisions made by powerful companies affecting many aspects of our lives and little is disclosed about how they are made.

Even where we know the rules, we may not appreciate their implications. Leave a decision to an AI machine trained with biased data (which is more than likely) and it will exhibit bias.

So we started worrying about algorithms. From Algorithms and the law on Legal Futures:

“Algorithms are rapidly emerging as artificial persons: a legal entity that is not a human being but for certain purposes is legally considered to be a natural person. Intelligent algorithms will increasingly require formal training, testing, verification, certification, regulation, insurance, and status in law.”

Robots taking jobs

There has been an awful lot of discussion about robots taking jobs. Which jobs, how many, by when? Nobody seems to be able to agree.

In Big Law, AI is doing the drudge work formerly occupying junior lawyers. They believe those jobs can be replaced with more valuable work to generate more profit. That begs the question what will happen to lawyers and paralegals further down the food chain.

Professor Richard Susskind addresses this question in the new edition of Tomorrow’s Lawyers, saying “it is hard to avoid the conclusion that there will be much less need for conventional lawyers.” (For a review of the AI chapter, with extracts, by Ian Lopez, see Corporate Counsel.)

Image: Lollipop is coming (cropped) cc by Giuseppe Milo on Flickr.

Links in law and practice

By Nick Holmes on January 30, 2018
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Links by Balrog Daemon

In January’s Internet Newsletter for Lawyers:

Links are fundamental to the web; without them it would literally not exist. So, it is surprising that legal advice on linking usually starts by counselling the linker that they should first obtain permission. See, for example, Linking and Framing on Out-Law.com (admittedly, that was 2008) and Think before you link on Pitmans’ Insights (2017).

Not only is this impractical, but also most sites are in fact keen for others to link to them for the attendant “eyeballs” and the “Google juice”. So, whilst strictly in law permission is needed, in practice we can assume permission if we link responsibly.

Read on.

Robot lawyers (again)

By Nick Holmes on September 5, 2017
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Filed under Artificial intelligence

DoNotPay

In the July issue of Internet Newsletter for Lawyers Casey Flaherty forcefully makes the case against the hype surrounding AI and robots in legal, particularly by vendors talking up their own offerings. He is also somewhat sensitive to those who call their offerings “lawyers” when they clearly are not. One such, indeed the one who has claimed “the world’s first robot lawyer” is all-of-20 Joshua Browder, a British student at Stanford University, majoring in Economics and Computer Science. His DoNotPay robot lawyer started off challenging parking tickets for him and his friends and has now developed into a veritable bot-fest, with over 500 law bots planned in 300 areas of law across US, Canadian and UK jurisdictions.

Read more by me about DoNotPay.

Robots and the law

By Nick Holmes on April 30, 2017
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Filed under Artificial intelligence

My latest article for Internet Newsletter for Lawyers.

How Twitter works

By Nick Holmes on March 14, 2017
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Twitter_logo_blue

A number of commentators are referring to the Twitter libel case of Jack Monroe v Katie Hopkins [2017] EWHC 433 (QB). In particular, the How Twitter Works appendix has got some excited.

The full judgment is now on BAILII and the Appendix is below. You could also check out my effort.

HOW TWITTER WORKS

1. Launched in July 2006, Twitter was the first major ‘micro-blogging’ service, allowing people to use the internet to post very short blogposts.

2. A person who sets up a Twitter account begins by creating a username (sometimes called Twitter ‘handle’) which begins with an @ symbol: e.g. @Person.

3. Twitter automatically creates a Profile page (sometimes called a homepage) for @Person, which will appear online as a webpage at URL in the format: http://www.twitter.com/Person

4. @Person can send ‘tweets’: messages of up to 140 characters which can (but need not) include hyperlinks, photos, videos, emojis, or ‘hashtags’ (words beginning with #, which allow people to join a common conversation). Each tweet gets a unique URL called a ‘permalink’ in the format: http://www.twitter.com/Person/status/123456789123456 .

5. All @Person’s own tweets (of any character whatsoever) appear in reverse chronological order on their Profile page.

6. @Person will also have a Timeline: a reverse chronological stream of tweets from all the users that @Person chooses to follow. This can be found on the Home tab when @Person logs-in to their account. It also displays (top-left corner): @Person’s photo, number of tweets by @Person, number of users @Person follows, and @Person’s number of followers.

7. @Person will have also have other tabs called:

  • Notifications (a private tab which sends @Person ‘alerts’ or ‘notifications’ of activity relating to tweets by, or mentioning, @Person); &
  • Direct Messages or “DMs” (private messages between Twitter users, formerly only between users who followed each other).

8. Different users of Twitter (e.g. @A, @B and @C) can also choose to ‘follow’ @Person’s tweets, meaning that @Persons regular tweets will appear in the Timelines of each of @Person’s followers: i.e. @Person’s tweet appear in @A’s Timeline, @B’s Timeline and @C’s Timeline.

9. Each of those Timelines of @A, @B and @C will be an aggregated feed of all the people that @A follows, that @B follows, and that @C follows respectively.10. @Person can make their tweets ‘private’, whereby no-one can read them except approved followers: if private, only approved followers get @Person’s tweets in their Timelines and only approved followers can view @Person’s Profile page. However, if @Person does not set their account to private, then anyone can can view their tweets online, and anyone can view their Profile page online, even if they do not have a Twitter account.

11. Because not all people are on Twitter all of the time, Twitter has an internal metric of how many times it has actually had to display a particular tweet in any of the above guises: “Impressions”.

For example, if @A is on Twitter only between 0900 until 1000 and 1800 until 1900, they may not see a tweet by @Person at 1200, because by the time they log back on to Twitter at 1800, so many tweets by the people that @A follows have been tweeted that @Person’s tweet is a long way down the Timeline. So Impressions records the number of times that a tweet is actually generated on a screen (of a phone/laptop) by a viewer of the tweet who is active at that time.

12. Any person who has a Twitter account (@3rdParty), and who sees a tweet they like (whether or not they follow that person) can ReTweet (“RT”) it: that is to say re-publish it by pressing a ‘re-tweet’ button. So if @Person tweets, and @3rdParty RTs, the tweet will be republished in its original format (with a small added tagline at the top) saying ‘@3rdParty Retweeted’.

13. RTs appear in on @3rdParty’s profile page, and are published to the followers of @3rdParty (whether or not those people follower @Person).

14. A regular tweet by @Person therefore appears on:

  • @Person’s Profile page;
  • in the Timelines of those who follow @Person
  • on the Profile pages of RTers
  • in the Timelines of those who follow the RTers

15. As well or instead of RTing a tweet by @Person, a @3rdParty can:

  • ‘Like’ the tweet (by clicking on a ‘heart’ or ‘star’ logo);
  • Reply to the tweet (which starts the Reply with the usernames contained within the tweet, including that of the tweeter or any RTer);
  • Expand the tweet (to see all Replies to it);
  • Click on any hyperlink in the tweet
  • Click on any hashtag, which launches a Twitter search for all tweets containing that particular hashtag
  • Click on the permalink (a small link to the tweet’s unique URL)
  • Click on @Person’s username (a link to @Person’s Profile page)
  • Follow the tweeter (@Person) if they don’t do so already

16. All of these actions, including RTing, are called ‘Engagements’.

  • The numbers of some Engagements (RTs, Replies, Likes) are recorded on the public face of the tweet, at the bottom.
  • Other Engagements (Impressions, Expands, Hashtag clicks, Hyperlink clicks, Username clicks) are not on the public face of the tweet, and are only available through the Twitter Analytics service to @Person.

17. When people RT, Reply, or Like a tweet by @Person, then @Person gets a small message (and ‘alert’) in their Notifications tab telling them so. There are no notifications when a person whom you follow deletes a tweet.

18. Some tweets are different, because they also contain another user’s username (@Other) or more than one other user’s usernames (@Other and @Stranger). These usernames can occur anywhere in the tweet. This type of tweet is called an ‘at- mention’, because it ‘mentions’ other users.

19. If @Person tweets and uses @Other somewhere in the tweet (“I watched the football and saw @Other score!”), then even if @Other doesn’t follow @Person, @Other will also receive a Notification of the tweet by @Person (unless they have first Blocked or Muted tweets from @Person). However, subject to the point below, at-mentions are sent to all of @Person’s followers.

20. If, however, @Person begins their tweet with a username (@Stranger), this particular type of at-mention is called an ‘at-reply’ (because it is in the same format as a Reply to a tweet, in that it starts with a username).

21. An at-reply (such as “@Stranger good to meet you today”) will not appear in the timelines of all of @Person’s followers. It will only be published to the timelines of those who follow both @Person and @Stranger (the timelines of “common followers”).

22. However, beyond the timelines of common followers, an at-reply will also be published on @Person’s profile page (like any tweet), and is still capable of being RTed by anyone who sees it (such as @3rdParty). If RTed, an at-reply will still appear on the profile page of anyone who RTs it (i.e. @3rdParty’s profile page), and will be sent to the timelines of all of the followers of anyone who RTs it (i.e. all of @3rdParty’s followers’ timelines).

23. Where @Person decides that they do not like the tweets by @Stranger, they can ‘Mute’ @Stranger (so @Stranger’s tweets don’t appear in @Person’s Timeline, even though @Person still ‘follows’ Stranger and can see tweets on @Stranger’s Profile).

24. If @Person really doesn’t like tweets by @Stranger, they can ‘Block’ @Stranger, and neither @Person nor @Stranger will be able to receive each other’s tweets into their respective Timelines or view each other’s tweets on each other’s Profiles. However, no tweets are deleted by Blocking, and all tweets of a Blocked person are still available for everyone else to see as before, including in any search results.

25. For more serious abuse, @Person can Report an account (e.g. @Troll) to Twitter. If Twitter decides the abuse is serious enough, it can Suspend or Ban the @Troll account, which has the effect of making all of @Troll’s tweets and @Troll’s Profile unavailable for anyone to see. Any at-mentions (including at-replies) which cite ‘@Troll’ will remain the same text, but the link on the @Troll username will no longer be a live hyperlink to the @Troll Profile page.

26. Twitter Analytics allows a @Person to know all the Impressions and Engagements of each of their un-deleted tweets (including at-mentions and at-replies). It also records total Profile views per month (whether because people clicked on the username in tweets, or searched for the Profile page on Twitter or on some other service, such as Google).

Using a bus lane as a cash cow

By Nick Holmes on March 10, 2017
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Filed under Miscellany

Several months back I followed an unfamiliar route across London twice in 10 days. Two weeks after the first incident I received a PCN for driving in a bus lane and 10 days later another one!

I could not believe I had inadvertently strayed into a bus lane twice so I googled it. It’s a notorious bus lane in Lambeth that effectively entraps tens of thousands of motorists annually. It was given publicity in an Evening Standard article in 2015.

I decided not to challenge the PCNs as the contraventions were clear and there were no deficiencies in the signage etc that I could see. However, I felt so aggrieved that I sent an FOI request to Lambeth. You’ll see from the response  that in the last full year they pulled in £1.8 million from 28K contraventions. They have spent only a trivial amount on improving signage etc.

If the purpose of a bus lane is to deter motorists from driving in it and disrupting public transport, then they are singularly failing to do this, and it is a deliberate failing as they have full knowledge of the unusually high number of contraventions and ample evidence of drivers’ feelings of entrapment. They could quite easily have implemented a separating kerb that would prevent driving in the lane except by the most determined.

I’m advised that there’s no hope of getting justice for my fellow 130,000 motorists affected.

Bad luck chaps.

Blogging for lawyers in 2017

By Nick Holmes on March 1, 2017
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I wrote this 6 years ago. I can’t see that I would need to update it for 2017.

All the talk these days is about social networking. Have you got a Facebook page? Do you Tweet? Are you LinkedIn? But we should not forget that the granddaddy of the so-called social media is blogging and that’s been around for a long time; so long, in fact, that blogging is now unremarkable; blogging is normal and that’s good because we can get on with making the most of it without the hype. Let’s see how. …

Read on and tell me if you agree.

RSS is dying, right?

By Nick Holmes on February 7, 2017
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Filed under Feeds

My latest post on Internet Newsletter for Lawyers:

I am a long-time proponent of RSS but am aware that it is declining in visibility. Many sites large and small are not offering RSS feeds any more. What’s up?

Read more

The need for technological competence

By Nick Holmes on October 10, 2016
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Filed under CPD, Technology

My latest post on Internet Newsletter for Lawyers:

Across the pond, in 2012, the American Bar Association formally approved a change to their Model Rules of Professional Conduct to make clear that lawyers have a duty to be competent not only in the law and its practice, but also in technology, amending Comment 8 to Model Rule 1.1 to read as follows:

Read more

Image: cc by Marc Di Luzio on Flickr.

Brexit for lawyers

By Nick Holmes on July 5, 2016
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Filed under Constitutional law, Democracy

Extracts from my latest post in Internet Newsletter for Lawyers about the legal and constitutional issues surrounding Brexit:

As opinions on this change by the hour, your best bet is to follow the latest comments on Twitter from those lawyers who are focussing on the constitutional implications of the Brexit vote and thence read their more considered writings on their blogs. I’ve created a Twitter list where you can follow the leading commentators as a group. They are:

Mark Elliott (@ProfMarkElliott), Professor of Public Law at the University of Cambridge, who blogs at Public Law for Everyone, has recently focussed on the constitutional implications of Brexit, most recently On why, as a matter of law, triggering Article 50 does not require Parliament to legislate.

David Allen Green (@davidallengreen), who blogs about law and policy as Jack of Kent and is also a legal commentator at FT.com, is probably the most prolific tweeter and writer about Brexit.

Carl Gardner (@carlgardner), a former government lawyer who blogs about public law as Head of Legal, is also a prolific Tweeter about Brexit.

Jolyon Maugham (@JolyonMaugham) QC, a tax lawyer who blogs at Waiting for Godot, is currently commenting extensively on Brexit on his blog and on the broadcast media. His latest post on The Big Green Button Bill argues that invoking Article 50 would require an Act of Parliament.

Follow also UCL Constitution Unit (@ConUnit_UCL): Constitution Unit Blog.

On immigration: Colin Yeo (@ColinYeo1) at Free Movement.

On human rights: Adam Wagner (@AdamWagner1) at UK Human Rights Blog.

Image: By Jose Manuel Mota on Flickr.

Never mind the quantity

By Nick Holmes on May 4, 2016
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Filed under Future of law

My latest post on the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers.

Image: By Eric Fischer on Flickr.

Writing out loud

By Nick Holmes on February 25, 2016
One comment
Filed under Blogging

My latest post for Internet Newsletter for Lawyers.

Image: By Amy Gahran on Flickr.

We need to stop talking about AI

By Nick Holmes on December 16, 2015
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Filed under Artificial intelligence

My latest post for Internet Newsletter for Lawyers.

Image: By Saad Faruque on Flickr.

Internet made easy

By Nick Holmes on October 16, 2015
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Filed under Pages on the Web

20 years ago I wrote my first “Page on the Web” column in the Solicitors Journal with a piece about why you should use the internet.

My service provider at the time was Demon Internet. They still are! Thanks Demon.