Sept. 2006 Quick Links

By Eric Goldman

Some stories that caught my eye in September:

* Digg users are gaming the Digg algorithm. Greg Linden’s take. Naturally, Digg is fighting back by tweaking its algorithm to reduce the effect of gaming and preserve some editorial integrity to its results. Hmm…this sounds familiar. As I’ve argued, users inevitably will game algorithms, websites will tweak the algorithms, and the cycle will repeat infinitely. It is the Law of Algorithms. For a user revolt/algorithmic assault that I “enjoyed” first hand, see here.

* Rebecca blogs on “mocketing,” the process where brand owners pay people to parody their brands, and its potential implications for trademark law.

* Starbucks emails employees a coupon for a free drink and encourages them to forward the email coupons on to friends and family. A few trillion emails later, Starbucks realizes that it made a horrible mistake and dishonors the coupons. Now, they’re staring down a $114M class action lawsuit. See the coupon and more details here. Practice pointer for marketers: NEVER EVER encourage email recipients to forward the emails on to friends and families, especially if some benefit putatively will attach. It’s a sure-fire way to become an instant urban legend, and some variation of these emails will still be making the forwarding rounds in the year 2525. Tsan offers some more practice pointers.

* BusinessWeek recaps the social science literature on how eBay sellers can maximize revenues. Recommendations based on the literature: set low starting prices; don’t use reserves; use photos; don’t flood the market; spell check; use hype; hold longer auctions; watch the auction’s ending time; don’t overcharge for shipping; and avoid negative feedback.

* About 1 of every 2 searches involves “pogo-sticking” (reviewing a search results page, investigating a search result and back-buttoning to the search results page). Yet more social science demonstrating the junkiness of the initial interest confusion doctrine–consumers have figured out how to investigate search results and back out if they are not relevant.

* In a default judgment, an Illinois judge ordered UK-based Spamhaus, one of the email blocklist maintainers, to pay e360 Insight LLC $11.7M in damages for blocklisting them and to post a note acknowledging that they aren’t spammers. However, it remains unclear how e360 can enforce this ruling.

* Google lost a Google News copyright case in Belgium. For a critical view of this case, see Ross Dunn’s take. Google’s official statement.

* Lengthy NYT article on Marshall, TX, with the second-largest patent docket in the country. Why? Fast trials, plaintiff-favorable results (78% pro-plaintiff instead of a national average of 59%), and Texas-sized damages. More on Marshall as patent litigation capital available here.

* AOL has been sued for its release of search data. Danny’s take. Two things: (1) I can’t see the ECPA claim at all. A search request is a communication between party A (searcher) and party B (search engine). There’s no ECPA violation when either A or B discloses the contents of that communication. However, I think search engines make their life harder when they take the position that they make the factually unsupportable argument that they are just passive conduits between searchers and web publishers (see Field v. Google). (2) the complaint takes the position that AOL is continuing to disseminate the search data because it continues to display search results linking to the data. I think this argument has lost all credibility in the copyright arena; it seems equally bogus here.

* A three year old kid knows how to “buy it now.”

* NYT on “orphan brands”/”dormant brands” and efforts to license and revive these brands.

* The US officially joined the Council of Europe (COE) Convention on Cybercrime. It becomes effective Jan. 1, 2007.

* My colleague Tyler Ochoa explains the fallacies of Huntington Beach’s trademark claims for the phrase “Surf City USA.”