The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last Tuesday that Web loggers, website operators and e-mail list editors can't be held responsible for libel for information they republish, extending crucial First Amendment protections to do-it-yourself online publishers.
Online free speech advocates praised the decision as a victory. The ruling effectively differentiates conventional news media, which can be sued relatively easily for libel, from certain forms of online communication such as moderated e-mail lists. One implication is that DIY publishers like bloggers cannot be sued as easily.
"One-way news publications have editors and fact-checkers, and they're not just selling information -- they're selling reliability," said Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "But on blogs or e-mail lists, people aren't necessarily selling anything, they're just engaging in speech. That freedom of speech wouldn't exist if you were held liable for every piece of information you cut, paste and forward."
The court based its decision on a section of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, or the CDA. That section states, "... no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." Three cases since then -- Zeran v. AOL, Gentry v. eBay and Schneider v. Amazon -- have granted immunity to commercial online service providers.
Tuesday's court ruling clarifies the reach of the immunity granted by the CDA to cover noncommercial publishers like list-server operators and others who take a personal role in deleting or approving messages for online publication.
"Here, the court basically said that when it comes to Internet publication, you can edit, pick and choose, and still be protected," said Cohn.
The case traces back to a North Carolina town in 1999, where handyman Robert Smith was repairing a truck owned by attorney and art collector Ellen Batzel. Smith claimed to have overheard Batzel say she was related to Nazi Gestapo head Heinrich Himmler. He said he concluded that the European paintings he saw in her home must be stolen goods, and shared this in an e-mail he sent to the editor of the Museum Security Network, an organization that publishes information about stolen art.
Without telling Smith the e-mail would be published, Ton Cremers -- the sole operator of Amsterdam-based Museum Security Network –- made minor edits, then posted Smith's e-mail to a list of about 1,000 museum directors, journalists, auction houses, gallery owners and Interpol and FBI agents.
Three months later, Batzel learned of the post. She contacted Cremers to deny both the stolen art and Nazi ancestry allegations. She also said Smith's claims were motivated by financial disputes over contracting work.
Smith said he had no idea Cremers would publish a private e-mail on the list or on the Web.
Batzel sued Smith, Cremers and the Museum Security Network for defamation and won. Cremers appealed.
The appeals court questioned whether Cremers' minor edits to Smith's e-mail altered it so much that the post became a new piece of expression, and decided it had not. But because Smith claims he didn't know the e-mail would be published, the court also questioned whether the immunity provision of the Act applied, and passed the case back to the district court. The lower court will reconsider whether Cremers had reasonable belief that Smith's e-mail was intended for publication.
"Some weblogs are interesting mixes of original and forwarded content, so this issue may come up again in the courts," EFF's Cohn said. "Where that legal line is drawn may become a point of contention."
Ellen Batzel says the case changed her life.
"This was a small, North Carolina mountain town -- I talked to the (district attorney) and he said 'Get a dog, get a gun, get a security system or better yet get out of town.' I sold my house and moved. I've been hurt in my professional reputation and in my private life.
"I know what free speech is, and I support it, but this is about invasion of privacy and my civil liberty. Every time I meet someone now, I have to say, 'Hi, I'm not Himmler's granddaughter."
Attorney Howard Fredman, who represented Batzel in the case, said the next legal steps could include a rehearing before the appeals court, or petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court.
On 18 May, for example, one Geoffrey Nunberg fulminated in the New York Times about the fact that whenever one does a Google search on any topical issue, the top page rankings often go to blogs rather than established media sources (such as the New York Times ).
What Makes Blogs so great? Is it the satisfaction of free expression for the authors, or the boundless ocean of information available to readers? John Naughton realizes that the whole point of the web is full and comprehensive linking, and Google ranks pages by the numbers of other pages that link to them, it is hardly surprising that blogs are winning over established media. Nobody in his right mind would link to a mere abstract.
Another reason blogs show up so prominently in Google searches is because weblogs are freely available on the web while Big Media sources increasingly are not. Instead they are either locked, or very quickly moved from media sites, behind pay-for firewalls. (As with Nunberg's little rant, which I have just tried to re-read - and was invited to pay $2.95 for the privilege.)
This was, according to Nunberg, A Bad Thing. After all, most bloggers are not professional journalists, but rank amateurs! He was not the first hack to articulate this whinge. In fact, he seems to have picked up the idea from an earlier piece in the Register, an online publication. But the mindset he represents is widespread in Big Media, so it is worth devoting a few moments to unpacking the prejudices behind it.
First, there is the contempt for 'amateur' writers, endemic in professional journalism. Hacks are always astonished by anyone who writes for no pay, so upwards of half a million such amateurs now publishing blogs leaves the pros speechless. It also leads them to deride blogs as an epidemic of vanity publishing rather than the glorious outbreak of free expression it actually represents.
Second is the assumption that anything written by an amateur is, by definition, worthless. Yet journalism has always been, as Northcliffe observed, 'the art of explaining to others that which one does not oneself understand'.
In fact, when it comes to many topics in which I have a professional interest, I would sooner pay attention to particular blogs than to anything published in Big Media - including the venerable New York Times. This is not necessarily because journalists are idiots; it's just that serious subjects are complicated and hacks have neither the training nor the time to reach a sophisticated understanding of them - which is why much journalistic coverage is inevitably superficial and often misleading, and why so many blogs are thoughtful and accurate by comparison.
Third, there is the problem - not often touched upon in the New York Times, by the way - that many controversial public issues are ignored by Big Media for the simple reason that the ideological and commercial interests of their proprietors preclude it.
This is why the US mainstream media has wound up misleading its audience about Iraq and the 'war' on terrorism. The fact that most US citizens believe a majority of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis rather than Saudis is a case in point.
The moral is: if you want to score with Google, be on the web. Otherwise, go whistle.
Like any number of webloggers trying to make their mark with commentary on the war in Iraq, Sean-Paul Kelley knew geography and career experience didn't favor him.
Kelley -- the man behind the wildly popular site The Agonist -- lives in Texas, worlds away from the war's front lines. And his reporting résumé added up to a mere three weeks at a local paper. Still, for the last few weeks, he had managed to post several dozen war-related news items a day on his site.
Some of the information was attributed to news outlets and other sources, but much of it was unsourced, particularly the almost real-time combat information presumably gleaned from a string of high-level sources worldwide.
Kelley's insightful window on the details of the war brought him increasing readership (118,000 page views on a recent day) and acclaim, including interviews in the The New York Times and on NBC's Nightly News, Newsweek online and National Public Radio.
The only problem: Much of his material was plagiarized -- lifted word-for-word from a paid news service put out by Austin, Texas, commercial intelligence company Stratfor.
"You got me, I admit it.... I made a mistake," Kelley said. "It was stupid."
In a series of interviews with Wired News, Kelley changed his story several times. At first, he said he used just four or five Stratfor items a day without crediting the company. Later, he owned up to "six or seven days when half was from Stratfor."
Aside from a few scattered attributions, Kelley presented Stratfor's intelligence as information he had uncovered himself, typically paragraph-long reports detailing combat operations in Iraq. He took these wholesale from a Stratfor proprietary newsletter, U.S.-Iraqwar.com, which Kelley admits he subscribes to.
"Many postings on the (Agonist) pages I looked at are word-for-word verbatim," said Stratfor chief analyst Matthew Baker.
Kelley's plagiarism was first brought to light by a blogger who goes by the name General Roy. Last week, on his pro-war site, Strategic Armchair Command, Roy charged Kelley with nearly a dozen instances of plagiarizing Stratfor material over the course of a single day.
Roy says he noticed the plagiarism on March 31 when, because of technical difficulties on its website, Stratfor e- mailed its reports in bulk. The reports' same-day replication on The Agonist leaped off Roy's screen.
Roy maintains he wasn't gunning for Kelley, whose traffic dwarfs Strategic Armchair Command's 3,000 daily page views. Roy says he finds plagiarism intolerable and wanted to "let the blogosphere decide."
Roy said Stratfor included the following item in its March 31 dispatch: "U.S. troops fired on a car that reportedly had tried to crash through a checkpoint near As Samawah. One man was killed and three people were wounded. U.S. officials say the man who was killed was an Iraqi soldier."
Forty minutes later, Roy said, The Agonist posted the bulletin word-for-word.
Kelley offered an even more dubious explanation for the item attributed to a "little birdie." When asked how Stratfor information came to be credited to an unnamed source, Kelley said one of his sources must have gotten it from Stratfor and passed it on to him without crediting the intelligence company.
On Thursday, a March 20 update included the following: "But a little birdie told me that the current intermittent attacks against Iraq are designed to provoke a much-desired coup, flush out Iraqi command personnel and give covert forces on the ground an opportunity to strike." The item ended with a denigration of the media and a request for tips from readers.
In an interview, Kelley supplied the unnamed source's phone number, evidently hoping he would claim responsibility for providing the Stratfor material, which was not initially credited to the intelligence firm.
"I don't even read Stratfor," said the source, who described himself as a "former member of the intelligence community." When asked if he had ever copied a Stratfor item and sent it to Kelley, the source said, "I don't think that's something you could posit."
On Friday, the "little birdie" item was appended with a bolded parenthetical note: "The little birdie that gave me this information was Stratfor.com."
The Net remains a battleground for copyright protection, said Stratfor's Baker, but he was surprised and offended by the volume of Stratfor material Kelly tried to pass off as his own. "There is the trade-off of spreading our name, of publicity for Stratfor," Baker added.
"I'm glad someone considers our information of such value as to create a reputation in the marketplace," said Stratfor Vice President Aaric Eisenstein. "But it should accrue to the people actually doing the work: Stratfor's staff and sources."
Indeed, Kelley wrote on March 5, "Stratfor's breadth of coverage far surpasses any of the other affordable services of its kind," adding that Stratfor "tries to stay ahead of the media."
In a surprisingly amicable resolution, Stratfor and Kelley have agreed that he can use no more than two Stratfor items per day, and always with attribution.
With a staff of dozens of analysts, Stratfor has 150,000 subscribers to products that cost from $50 a year for U.S.-Iraqwar.com to more than $600 annually, according to Eisenstein. Kelley said he subscribes to the full package.
So why did Kelley do it?
"I was trying to develop my own sources," he said. "If I could throw stuff out there to get some eyebrows raised as to 'who is this guy?' then I might get sent some encrypted e-mail." He was referring to the hope that high-level government and military sources might anonymously share information he could post on The Agonist.
Should Kelley sustain much criticism from the episode, it'll be a dramatic comedown from his recent media acclaim.
On March 25, The New York Times, for instance, referred to Kelley as "the mastermind and lightning-fast typist" behind The Agonist. It quoted Kelley's assertion that his 350 percent increase in readership over the prior five days was"a function of thefact thatI am providing the news without the media hype of CNN and Fox."
Such success was built, in part, on plagiarizing Stratfor's extensive war-theater reporting. Referring to Kelley's blog, Petty said, "I got the feeling almost half of it was from Stratfor, and the rest almost seemed like filler -- it was not super compelling."
Judging by his March 31 appearance on NPR's The Connection, Kelley is an articulate media presence. On air, he cited his obligation to the readers who flock to his site "based on my reporting and my integrity." Asked about his editorial judgment, he referred to his graduate studies in international relations and said, "I feel I have a good sense of what's real and what's not."
But proof that Kelley's reputation was not altogether deserved could hurt bloggers' attempts to scratch their way to mainstream credibility.
"If blogging wants to take itself seriously as journalism, then the rules of journalism apply: Don't plagiarize," said Columbia University Journalism professor Sreenath Sreenivasan.
"I really thought that The Agonist was going to be the vanguard that pushed news blogging over the top and gave many of us new hope," opined a MetaFilter poster named Dean Paxton. "Instead, I fear that this is an enormous setback. Especially when the blog-savvy media pundits are turned on to this."
Rafe Colburn, who runs the blog rc3.org, praised Kelley's site as well-done. "But I honestly have no idea how good it is because I don't know how much of his stuff is taken from other sites and posted without attribution. Unfortunately, I can no longer recommend his site to my readers."
In an ironic March 26 blog entry, Kelley addressed the creators of a Russian-based war blog: "To the ... guys who are backdating stuff from my site: Do your own research! Knock it off!"
It's a gorgeous early fall day in northern California, but you'd never know it on the air-conditioned expo floor at the Santa Clara Convention Center. The KMWorld2000 trade show constitutes a full frontal assault on the senses: software vendors sporting corporate-logoed golf shirts pounce from all directions, promising knowledge management nirvana. All you need to do is spend megabucks to install their portal-vortal-intranet-extranet-search-engine-interactive-collaborative-commerce e-solution. Bob Armacost, director of internal knowledge management at Bain and Co., likens it to the swarms of souvenir hawkers who greet incoming boats of tourists. "You go to one of these shows and you feel like you're stepping off a cruise ship in the Bahamas," he says. Unfortunately, this is knowledge management (KM) today—a good idea gone awry. KM has fallen victim to a mixture of bad implementation practices and software vendors eager to turn a complex process into a pure technology play. The result: Like many a business concept, KM has evolved from a hot buzzword to a phrase that now evokes more skepticism than enthusiasm.
Intellectual capital, or employee knowledge and experience, is a vital corporate asset. KM seeks to best use that asset through knowledge sharing and documentation.
KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT revolves around the concept that one of the most valuable corporate assets is the experience and expertise floating around inside employees' heads. In order to manage this intellectual capital, executives must devise a way to capture and share that knowledge with coworkers. If done right, KM is supposed to create a more collaborative environment, cut down on duplication of effort and encourage knowledge sharing—saving time and money in the process. The problem is, in many cases KM devolved into a purely technical process, resulting in expensive software implementations sitting unused by oblivious, fearful or resentful employees.
Larry Prusak, executive director of IBM's Institute for Knowledge Management, says he's observed about 220 KM implementations and at least half
Bob Armacost, director of internal knowledge management at Bain and Co., decries the technology circus at KM trade shows.
have been "deeply suboptimized" because it was easier and faster to just buy technology than think through the strategic issues. For example, Prusak tells of a global financial services company that spent six years and nearly $1 billion on a KM project to improve the productivity of its financial planners. It was purely a technological exercise, and the company has gained almost no return on investment. He also cites Nynex, the telecom company that has since merged with Bell Atlantic to form Verizon. The company, says Prusak, wasted tens of millions of dollars trying to build a system that would store the expert knowledge of its most valuable employees. The trouble was, the systems couldn't reproduce the problem-solving processes of its experts. "[Nynex] didn't think through what an expert knows and why they're experts in the first place," says Prusak.
Not surprisingly, KM has gained a dubious reputation among many business executives, industry analysts and even KM industry insiders. At worst, they say, KM has been a total bust; at best, it hasn't lived up to the considerable hoopla surrounding it. "There's a fair amount of perception out there in the marketplace that knowledge management has set very high expectations for itself, which it hasn't met over the last couple of years," says Andy Michuda, CEO of Sopheon Teltech, a KM and software consultancy based in Minneapolis.
Chief Knowledge Officers (a.k.a. Title Inflation 101) Read More
Is this perception correct? Well, the answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no. The key is how individual companies approach KM—and many simply have the approach wrong. The big mistake is falling prey to vendors' claims that if you just buy the right search engine, portal or intranet, voilà, you'll have knowledge management. Technology is only a small part of what's overwhelmingly a cultural endeavor, experts say. Before you even touch issues of technology, you need to figure out what types of knowledge your employees need to share and how to coax them into sharing. If you lead with technology, "KM is a bust" will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But this doesn't mean KM is a worthless concept. There are real business reasons—like increased productivity, worker collaboration and shorter product development cycles—to keep track of who knows what. Thus, experts predict that KM practices won't go away; rather, they may become embedded in other disciplines, such as customer relationship management or enterprise resource planning. As long as the process lives on, it's really a victory for KM's legitimacy. Tom Davenport, director of Accenture's Institute for Strategic Change in Wellesley, Mass., (and Darwin columnist), likens KM to total quality management, which was all the rage in the early 1990s. Although TQM isn't mentioned much these days, it has become incorporated into the way we think about business, he says. "It would actually be a sign of success if knowledge management got embedded into other things," says Davenport, who has written extensively about the subject. "I'd certainly have no problems with its going into CRM and business intelligence and all the things it might evolve into."
Knowledge Through Time Knowledge management as a discipline came to the fore around 1994. It sprang from grassroots organizations of business professionals
Andy Michuda, CEO of Sopheon Teltech, remembers when KM equalled Lotus Notes.
who gathered to discuss the potential benefits of knowledge sharing. In the early days, there were no conferences, but you had to qualify to come to the meetings. The requirements were simple: Prepare a case study you are willing to share with the others. "Huge companies would show up," says Michuda. "We had one session in Atlanta and you'd look around and see 10 people from McKinsey trying to find out what this new market was all about."
Soon leaders like Davenport and Prusak began to write books on the subject, and the hype started to bubble. But as the conferences and books exploded in the late 1990s, early adopters ran into trouble. They were experiencing less-than-satisfactory results, like lack of usage and irrelevant search results, and grew disappointed with Lotus Notes and other tech-driven applications. Personnel simply weren't using what adopters implemented.
By 1997, those in the know realized that this was because knowledge management wasn't about technology; it was about people and human behavior. By this point, however, it was too late. "Working with many customers who have struggled with this concept, I can tell you that [the vendors] have confused a lot of people," says Dan Schimmel, CEO of OneSource Information Services, a content provider in Concord, Mass. According to Schimmel, vendors have made a lot of customers think of KM in terms of working forward from a tool rather than looking at their knowledge needs, figuring out how to solve them and then finding the right tool.
Bill Seidman, CEO of Cerebyte, a KM software company in Lake Oswego, Ore., agrees. If you go around the booths at a show, very few products are focused on human interactions, he points out. "It's mostly techie snake oil. They tell you, 'Enter a keyword and something will happen.' And that something is one of two things. Either they'll find a document for you or they'll go find a human with some sort of profile matching the keyword. But who cares? The information could be out-of-date."
Worse, you could be that human whose profile is matched. "Suddenly everyone is calling you," he says. "Then KM is just a labor-brokering field, only slightly better than what you already have in a corporation."
Meanwhile, says Michuda, the vendors haven't educated the marketplace on what's required to get value from their investment. "I don't know of a vendor out there willing to say, 'This is the business value you'll get, and I'm willing to be compensated based on how much value you'll receive,'" he says. "That's not how the industry works. It's, 'Buy my software and good luck.'"
But how much can you really blame the vendors, asks Davenport, who points out that it's a pretty natural inclination for a software provider to tie software to something it perceives as popular. He says he'd do the same thing. "Is this anything new in human history? Absolutely not."
Davenport has a point. There's another reason behind the less-than-satisfactory results of many KM projects, and a quick look in the boardroom mirror will frequently reflect the culprit. Many senior executives have mistakenly put their IT departments in charge of knowledge management, says analyst Dan Rasmus, who leads Giga Information Group's information and knowledge management practice. "We see this a lot," he says. "The CEO or some senior executive reads an article, gets turned on to KM and assigns it to IT, saying 'Buy me a system.'" The problem with that is twofold: Such an approach doesn't address any social or cultural issues; and even if it did, IS is not the best choice to lead cultural change within an organization.
"At the level we're talking about with knowledge management, you need a collection of people at the executive level driving the message, changing the way they behave and evaluating people," Rasmus points out.
Steve Cranford, who used to head the knowledge management services division at KPMG Consulting, agrees. Whoever you put in charge of your KM initiative will dictate the direction it takes. If an IT person does it, it'll have a huge IT focus. "It's easy to say, 'Let's just give it to the IT guy and he'll build something,'" says Cranford, who is now the CEO of KSolutions, a knowledge management consultancy in Annapolis, Md. "But that's why it's failing."
And maybe that's why KM works at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., in Atlanta, where KM uses very little technology. At the Ritz, it's all about people sharing their experiences, says CIO Pam Angelucci. In fact, her most successful KM program uses no technology at all. It's a "green book" of best practices collected from the top performers in every department in the company, from corporate management to housekeeping. The hard-copy volume is updated annually by a vice president of quality, and the expert content is chosen based on quality scoring procedures. "[Knowledge management at Ritz-Carlton] really has little to do with any kind of technology," says Angelucci. "I suppose we could look at putting it into a database and automating the pieces, but it's just not high on our priority list." The system appears to work: Ritz-Carlton is a two-time winner of the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. "When it comes to technology, we'll never put it in just because it's available, new or there," she says.
New Habits If KM is going to continue, either consciously or subconsciously, it's crucial to address the larger issue of KM. It won't be easy, says Davenport. "Organizational and behavioral change is the hardest part of implementing anything," he says. "Buying software is the easiest part."
So what can you do to get it right? The following tips will help keep KM vibrant in your company.
Isolate a business need. There's no point in trying to manage knowledge if you have no idea why you're doing it.
Pam Angelucci, CIO of Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., says its best KM practice uses no technology at all.
So find out where the ability to capture and reuse knowledge will prove most profitable. You should make this evaluation based on how your organization conducts its current business and on your existing technology infrastructure. "You need to hammer down what your business drivers or goals are," says Jim McKinley, director of knowledge solutions for Net Perceptions. "If you don't know your end result, there's little chance you're going to get there with whatever decision you end up making."
For example, if you're a consulting organization and have 40,000 consultants wandering around the globe doing similar tasks and similar projects—but in completely different regional or technical silos—you want to make better use of that information across boundaries, McKinley points out. "Do you provide information to clients? To managers of project teams? In what sense do you want to bring these people together in real-time, in an offline mode?" he asks.
Only after you've worked out these issues do you begin to go out and seek tools.
Measure business impact. The point of knowledge management is to make your business more valuable, and you need to find ways to ensure this happens, says Michuda. Have you reduced your product development cycle 30 percent because of your KM process? Have you reduced the amount of time it takes to get government approval of your product? These are the real measurables that will show the value of your KM initiative.
Michuda cites pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson as an example. J&J analyzed its FDA product application process in an effort to learn why the company wasn't getting new products to market faster than the competition. Typically, J&J would submit an application to the FDA, which would review it and bounce it back with questions. The submission team would have to go back, research the questions and resubmit the application. What if they could capture all the questions the committee raised on similar J&J products that had already won approval? The company started keeping a repository of previous applications. Now, prior to every submission, the application team digs out the files, looks at previous rejection questions and goes back to the product development team to make sure they're answered. "This has drastically reduced the amount of time it takes to get through the FDA process," says Michuda. The company made $30 million on one product alone just by releasing it a month earlier, he says. "That's real business. That's real stuff."
Reward knowledge sharing. In most companies, you benefit by hoarding what you know. After all, you become the resident expert on a subject and enjoy the status it brings. Trouble is, hoarding knowledge leads to duplication of work and turf wars. You need to teach new, collaborative behaviors, and that's where rewards come in. "Think about incentives for sharing," says Davenport. "And remember, if you don't have them, knowledge management technologies will never create them."
For example, last year PR agency Hill & Knowlton implemented a companywide intranet where its professionals could access staff bios, practice-group profiles, client information, industry news and even e-mail exchanges relevant to issues they were working on. The big challenge was getting people to share their knowledge on the intranet. Worldwide Director of Knowledge Management Systems Ted Graham created a "best-seller" list of the most frequently accessed contributions. Being on the list gave employees recognition, he says. Additionally, knowledge sharing is now part of Hill & Knowlton employee performance reviews. "We've gotten tired of people just saying, 'I'm an expert' when they haven't earned it," says Graham.
On the knowledge-seeking side, Hill & Knowlton hides "beenz," a form of micropayment created by New York City-based Beenz.com, throughout the site. Every time an employee opens a document or contributes information, there's a chance of collecting beenz, which can be redeemed for books, CDs and even Caribbean vacations. Graham's theory is that these incentives will get employees to explore the intranet beyond their own client accounts. "We want them to be able to see what else is being done around the network," says Graham.
It's all part of changing your culture. And if you don't change your culture, you'll never manage your knowledge—and KM will truly be a bust.
For anyone out there who wants it, I've created an OPML file that can serve as the "distributed directory" for Prairie Bloggers. It's a pretty small list right now, and I'm happy to add others. One of these days we'll actually get together. In the meantime, send me your link and I'll add you to the crew.
Note: if you're a Radio user and wish to include the directory in your own Radio Directory, here are the simple steps:
Open your desired OPML file (or create one, by selecting "File | New" in the Radio application).
Create a new node in the outline called Prairie Blogs (or whatever you wish to call it)