Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Web Professional

On January 18th tens of millions of users (and possibly more) found themselves without access to some of the internet’s most popular websites, and others found themselves witness to very public corporate protests. To help us better understand the impact on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and what it potentially means for the practicing Web Professional, I reached out to Jeff MacGurn, VP of Earn Media and Serach Engine Optimization at Covario a San Diego, CA company and Brent Norris, WebProfessionals.org member and Web Designer from 808Digital.com from the State of Hawaii.

QandA with Jeff MacGurn, VP of Earn Media and Serach EngineOptimization at Covario

* Who Did the SOPA Blackout Really Affect?
* Why has this just become such a visible issue within the last few days?
* Why this is not just an issue for websites inside of the U.S.?
* What is the Marketing impact for Web professionals?

QandA with Brent Norris, WebProfessionals.org member and Web Designer from 808Digital.com

* What is SOPA all about from a Web professional perspective?
* Who’s behind this?
* Why should Web professionals care?
* What’s next?
* Where do we go from here

Transcript:

Bill Cullifer: On January 10th, tens of millions of users and possibly more found themselves without access to some of the most popular websites, and others found themselves witness to some very public corporate protest. To help us better understand the impact of the Stop Online Piracy Act, SOPA, and what it potentially means for the practicing web professional, I am reaching out to Jeff MacGurn, VP of Earned Media & Search Engine Optimization at Covario, a San Diego company and Brent Norris, webprofessionals.org member and designer from 808 Digital from the State of Hawaii. Good afternoon gentlemen, thanks for agreeing to the interview.

Jeff MacGurn: Hey thanks for having me.

Brent Norris: Good afternoon, Bill and thanks for taking some time to address the subject.

Bill Cullifer, WebProfessionals.org: Jeff let’s start with you. Now you recently posted a blog poster about whom did the SOPA black out really affect, can you expand on that article?

Jeff MacGurn: Yeah, we essential, you know there’s a lot of information out there about what SOPA was, what PIPA was, and the politics going on, who is involved with protesting it, but I think a lot of people really kind of missed who is actually affected by the blackout and what type of effect it would actually have, and I think that was the whole point of the blackout that people didn’t really realize what blacking out an entire major sites on the internet or censoring major sites on the internet would have on people, and so we really wanted to take a deep dive and look at what the overall impact of this blackout was, to maybe try and give people an understanding of you know what that impact could be in the future.

Bill Cullifer, WebProfessionals.org: Some of the key findings.

Jeff MacGurn: Well some of the key findings were you know really what we wanted to look at was, number one, we started looking at the demographical distribution of each of these major websites, and we picked four of the largest sites that were blacking out, that is to say, Wikipedia, Reddit, WordPress and Craigslist. And then we took a look at using Google Insights and some of their brand search data, to try and understand what the distribution of their user base was throughout the United States and we found some really fascinating things about exactly who was affected. Interestingly enough, all of those sites seemed to have really be densely used on the West Coast, which maybe that wasn’t so surprising, doesn’t really surprised me the people on the West Coast tend you know, tend to use technology, there are a lot of technology jobs out on the West Coast. The age groups that tend to be the most affected by these sites really were between 18 and 34, once again not completely surprising, and for the most part, I think most of the sites were just slightly over a bit more male skewed than female. But our estimates really put the number of people affected in the tens of millions, but the extension you know, if you consider how many people have Facebook friends, you know the average Facebook user I think have a 150 or so friends, and with the saturation of Facebook, you might say that by extension you know, many hundreds of millions of people were affected world wide.

Bill Cullifer, WebProfessionals.org: Why do you think this is, just becomes such a visible issue within the last few days?

Jeff MacGurn: Well I think you know, that’s an interesting question, I don’t think it’s a, I think it’s only become visible if you are not really participating in social media, because this has been a really big issue from a social media perspective for the last couple of months. I think it’s really only come into the main stream media over the past few days, because you have seen a social media grassroots movement that started to direct a lot of energy towards, or rather against the SOPA bill.

Bill Cullifer, WebProfessionals.org: Why is this not just an issue for websites inside of the US?

Jeff MacGurn: Well you know, SOPA itself covers websites outside of the US, and blocking websites outside of the US, but I think above and beyond that you know, we have a site here that, the internet is not really on a country by country basis that we are seeing a big internationalization of websites and indeed online marketing, so you know really, changing a website in one place can have huge repercussions throughout the world. Even if you are talking about you know in English only version of a website those are still accessed you know throughout the world.

Bill Cullifer, WebProfessionals.org: We represent web professionals world wide, and I am trying to hone in on why is this important to them, and to that end I’d like to know you know, what’s the marketing impact for web professionals?

Jeff MacGurn: So you know, I think, the marketing impact for web professionals comes in, you know in a number of different ways. First of all, I think it is a great lesson on how to understand social media trends, see what’s going on, on social media, and leverage those social media trends, not only you know, if you were against SOPA, obviously you with the business, or web marketer, may want to voice your opposition or you know, on behalf of your company. If your company was so inclined to do so, but by the same token you may also be able to leverage this as an opportunity to gain further visibility and exposure. If you take a look at the sites that went down, I mean one might argue that they could have potentially lost money, and you know we looked at Craigslist, and you know we found that on an average day, Craigslist posts about 33,000 jobs right, and they charge $25 a job post, which would then amount to about $825,000.

Now if indeed they were unable to post those 33,000 jobs that day because their site was down, that could cost them a significant stream of revenue right, however, if you look at it from a web marketing perspective, and I am not saying that this was entirely PR [indiscernible] [00:05:46] for Craigslist, I’m sure all of the sites that participated in the black out really strongly believed that SOPA is a bad thing, but if you look at it purely from a web marketing perspective, you are actually gaining a lot of visibility from your you know, for your web site. People would have linked in to all of these major websites that have blacked out, they were taking screenshots, mentioning them in tons of news articles, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, StumbleUpon, all these places were abuzz with the sites that had gone down because of the simple black out, sending lots of you know, what you are talking about search engine optimization, lots of off page relevancy signals, but then of course, there’s also lot of traditional media exposure that these sites got as well, and I don’t think you could watch the news last night or the day before without hearing about Craigslist, Wikipedia, Reddit, or any media and WordPress, any of the other sites that went down. So you know, ultimately they may have lost in streams of revenue, but I am sure they made up for that with exposure of their sites.

Bill Cullifer, WebProfessionals.org: So Brent, how about you, so you know we have an interest in educating web professionals as to what these issues are all about, and why they should pay attention, and why it’s important and how it can impact them, so with that said, you know give us some background, what is this all about?

Brent Norris: Well I guess first and foremost, it’s supposed to be about copyright protection, it seems to be a little bit more about fear, the Motion Picture Association has concerned it, as it is the recording industry of America that their profits will continue to decline, and their business model will suffer, unless they can get hold of the bits and bites that are really distributing their movies, and their music without their control and so, the Stop Online Piracy Act was something that was intended along with PIPA, to really get control of that, at the internet’s foundation at the IT level. Now that’s what everyone is reading, and that seems to be what a lot of folks are thinking about, SOPA and PIPA, but the truth is the Motion Picture Association hired Senator Chris Dodd, well two months I guess after he left the Senate to become their Chairperson and they started really gaining the system, they worked to put the US Attorney General, Eric Holder in-charge of the internet in unprecedented ways, so much so in fact, what we are learning is that the same time this was making headline news, the FBI was in eight different countries shutting down different websites and organization businesses that were engaged in file sharing, so it’s not like we really needed these two additional bills, when the Federal Government can go into other countries and shut websites down, and take people to jail, it’s an indication that we don’t need new legislation that the legislation we have is working, and in fact all of these things are covered under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and two additional acts that are in Congress right now are up for discussion.

So there is a lot of background information that a lot of folks aren’t getting, and this could be you know, in part due to the fact that lot of people get their news from television, and television does show a lot of motion pictures, and television’s biggest competitor is the internet. So there is a lot that I guess, and I think that right now we are just seeing the very, very beginning of this story, I think this is going to get much larger as, maybe as lines are drawn between some of the players, and you know, one could say that all of this is about the transparency that digital brings to people’s lives. This is really a much bigger issue than web professional jobs, in my opinion, although it can affect jobs in very profound ways, and we are starting to run with this art.

Bill Cullifer, WebProfessionals.org: Yeah let’s dwell into that for a minute, so you know why is this issue important to web professionals?

Brent Norris: Well if you just take a web designer for example, we know that about 50% of Adobe Photoshop users are using illegal copies of the software, and as these users sometimes, first time users, start to use this professional tool, as they become professionals, get clients, pay for the software, then they find that their valuable work is stolen from them, and they find that they are not getting compensation, and their rights are taken away, so copyright law is very complex, and if it were broken, I am not sure that we will call the government to fix it, and I think that we would probably try and adapt our business models differently to try and address the issue. So for the common web professional we don’t want our material, we don’t want our content stolen without our permission, and used without compensation.

Bill Cullifer, WebProfessionals.org: Well thanks Brent for that so, you know, where do we go from here?

Brent Norris: Well I think that web professionals should care about these issues for several reasons, and one of course, like Mark Zuckerberg said the other day, is the world needs political leaders who are pro-internet. It’s not enough to elect local, state and federal officials and leaders that are just in support of the internet, or in support of copyright laws so on and so forth, we need people that really are taking the time to understand the issues. I think that we need to do what Finland is doing, which is basically ensure that our laws are written in such a way that uphold internet access is a basic human right first and foremost, so that we can access the information.

Then I think it’s, it’s important to understand how SOPA and PIPA could affect opportunities in jobs and education. Now we know that any time we fight for innovation, we are going to have set backs, not because we can’t recover from the set backs, but because the internet doesn’t stop moving. We have got all sorts of competitors in the internet space; I was reading a report from IBM that ranks in the United States 3rd in terms of digital economy, so it is important to put all of this in context of the competition that’s out there and the rules and laws that they are abiding by, so if government is going to play a role, in my opinion I think the role that they should play is that of a more agile government that is working with the Department of Education to develop web standards that allow us as a country to develop a workforce instead of always looking for these other countries that have developed the workforce to help us build the internet, and I think that’s probably a primary role and I am sure that web professionals agrees that we can do a lot in that area to make it better.

Bill Cullifer, WebProfessionals.org: So what do you think web professionals or the community at large do to support this effort?

Brent Norris: Well I think most of the action is happening at the federal level, so we need a top-down approach, we need to make sure that while we sleep, [indiscernible] [00:13:14] restrict our access or shut down large networks that we use to do our jobs, but we need a strong bottom-up approach. In other words we have to work in our local community, I took a quick poll, I skidded around a lot of counties around the United States, which we have thousands of counties in the US., and in my particular county as an example, they were reporting the news on the various websites, there are about 10, 20 websites, but nothing was being reported on these two issues, and the reason that’s important is in the past, our national issues didn’t necessarily get a lot of coverage at the local level, but these aren’t just national issues, these are county issues, as well, these are community issues.

When you are not able to do your job as a web professional, in your home, it’s an issue in your home, so my point in all of this is we need to work with our county constitution, and we need to amend those constitutions so that they have open and transparent government amendments to them, to assure that everyone is going to have access and everyone is going to be able to have access to uncensored information. So it is important to work on the amendments to our local county constitutions, and to elect local officials that get it, that are pro-internet, and that are able to make decisions, and come out and talk about these issues as they come up.

So I think that that is super important and I think it is really critical that we all raise our awareness, our honest issues, because again it’s much larger than SOPA and PIPA, these are, some people call them, calling it the beginning of the Internet Freedom War, and so only time will tell but I should appreciate your asking the right questions Bill, and getting involved in the issues.

Bill Cullifer, WebProfessionals.org: Norris from 808digital.com and Jeff MacGurn from Covario, thank you so much for your time today.

Brent Norris: Thank you so much Bill, sorry if I sounded a little too far enough, but this one strikes close to home.

Jeff MacGurn: All right, thank you very much.

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