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October 10, 2000

Doc Searls has posted an open letter to Meg Whitman, CEO of eBay, regarding eBay's decision to sell advertising on its pages. He quotes from the Wall Street Journal that eBay "attracts upwards of 14 million users a month, traffic that remained largely untapped until now." Now, eBay isn't some free magazine-style site that doesn't have any other way to pay for its writers. Every visitor is coming their with the intention of eventually making a financial transaction (ie, buying or selling something) that eBay will receive a commission on. This apparently is not enough. They have decided that where there is a crowd of people, there is an "audience" that can be sold to advertisers.

Ever been to a supermarket that occasionally interrupts its bland music-sludge in order to play an ad for some product it sells? This is the same thing, and it bugs me. I don't mind paying marked-up prices at the supermarket, because it's more convenient than buying directly from food wholesalers and farmers. (The ancients often hated merchants because they made money off other people's labor, but that doesn't account for the time and effort involved in getting the products to the customers.) I'm willing to accept advertising when it's used to get me something for free, but what am I getting for free at eBay or the supermarket? The chance to look at products? The opportunity to receive ads? Bah. #

Salon's reader mail in response to their article about Gore and the internet points out some other testimony about Gore's involvement, including this quote from Newt Gingrich: "in all fairness Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet". #

And as long as I'm linking to political articles on Salon, I'll point out their recent look at Ralph Nader's candidacy which points out the uncomfortable fact that voting for Nader, while an effective protest against the current political system, except that most Nader supporters prefer Gore over Bush and voting for Nader might end up helping Bush win.

This is the sort of thing that Instant Runoff Voting is designed to address. In an election with more than two candidates, IRV works by allowing voters to specify a first choice, a second choice, and so forth. Each person can choose as many or as few choices as they like. In the first round of vote tallying, each person is considered to have voted for their first-choice candidate. If no one has a clear majority, then the candidate with the fewest votes is removed. The votes are re-tallied, with each person voting for their highest-ranked choice that's still in the running. Each time a round ends with no clear majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is removed and the totals are recalculated.

The beauty of this system is that no one has to worry about "throwing their vote away" and the person who eventually wins is (at the least) tolerated by a majority of voters. (Actually, I can see situations where no one would get a majority, but that requires odd voting patterns.) It's actually used in Australia and Ireland and parts of the U.S., but not for the U.S. presidential campaign. Oh well. #

Random Stuff

Ever hear the legend about how "Ring Around the Rosie" was inspired by the plague? It seems reasonable, but it turns out that its earliest known variants are fairly recent and distinctly non-plague-related. Concerned about the sudden appearance of a younger sister on Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Don't be; there's more here than meets the eye. #