Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

Archive forMarch, 2004 | back to home

31 March 2004

It’s nice to see someone trying to do something a little experimental to help people get an overview of the messages on the message boards they use.

They say initial feedback has been positive – hard to tell whether that is just because people react well when researchers pay attention to them but they intend to continue keeping an eye on the experiment.

I hope it is successful – we need new “blue sky” thinking to make online communities more approachable and useful – and I hope if it is useful they release the enabling software into the public domain.

The paper about the research is hereRehman Mohamed is one of the researchers.

Thanks to Mathemagenic for the link.

30 March 2004

The New Republic has published a story “dictatorship.com”:http://www.tnr.com/docprint.mhtml?i=20040405&s=kurlantzick040504 pooh poohing the notion that access to the Internet in a nation can help to undermine dictatorships. Needless to say this was like a red rag to a bull for some of the more Internet-philic – “Jeff Jarvis”:http://www.buzzmachine.com/archives/2004_03_27.html#about calls the piece, “load of naysaying, stick-in-the-sludge, cynical, behind-the-times, underreported, snotty crap“.

Though Jeff is right to pour scorn on TNR’s occaisional recycling of un-researched prejudices like the assertion that the Internet “lends itself to individual rather than communal activities”, I have to say I think TNR’s article is on the whole a welcome corrective to the kind of utopian thinking often espoused by online pundits and the furious reaction to the piece only reinforces this view. That’s not to say that the Internet does not have a potential role in the growth of civil society – of course it can be helpful. But to say as Jeff Jarvis does that, “In the last century, Coke meant freedom. In this century, the Internet means freedom” is to indulge in knee jerk technological determinism that overlooks the vital importance of the social context of technology use.

Also see an “earlier blog entry”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_academia.html#000758 of mine on an excellent book on the Internet in authoritarian regimes cited in the TNR piece.

29 March 2004

A recent blog survey on Expectations of Privacy and Accountability from Fernanda Viégas at the “MIT’s media lab”:http://web.media.mit.edu/. The results found were interesting but I found one of the asides in the report interesting as well, for a different reason. Ninety percent of those blogging in their (admittedly biased) sample have better than a high school education but the report begins by being critical of the notion that weblogging is “a marginal activity restricted to the technically savvy”?

28 March 2004
Filed under:Academia,Personal at12:25 pm

Sometime in the last couple of days without noticing it my “Endnote”:http://www.endnote.com/ database of book, journal and academic web page references broke through the 1,000 record mark. Record 1000 was probably one of the papers I recently downloaded from the site of “Dr Nick Couldry”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/media@lse/whosWho/nickCouldry.htm, one of my supervisors…

Note: I haven’t read all of the documents I have entries for – and some of them date back to my Masters…

27 March 2004

Wired News’ “Leander Kahney”:http://www.wired.com/news/storylist/0,2339,30,00.html has been writing about how us Brits have supposedly been in the forefront of using the Internet and mobile phone technologies to meet up for anonymous sex.

“Yoz Grahame”:http://cheerleader.yoz.com/ has written a stinging satire entitled Sex-Crazed Brits Just Doing It Everywhere, Like, Everywhere Man, You Can’t Stop Them, They’re Like Dogs In Heat Or Something, And Dude, I Gotta Get Me Some Of That.

26 March 2004

A few months ago I heard a US radio programme – The Connection – about the newly-constructed Chad to Cameroon pipeline.

Terry Lynn Karl explained in her book The Paradox of Plenty (and on the radio show) how oil revenues have actually made the plight of the poor worse in several countries around the world.

This month, as you might expect, a Washington Post reporter found “prostitutes are some of the only locals doing well”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A54448-2004Mar12.html from the $100m a year that will come to Chad’s government because of the pipeline.

Note: the “Internet Centre for Corruption Research”:http://wwwuser.gwdg.de/~uwvw/ found Cameroon among the countries with the “highest levels of perceived corruption”:http://wwwuser.gwdg.de/~uwvw/corruption.cpi_2003_data.html in 2003.

25 March 2004

The Guardian tries to find out by following a blouse donated in the UK from donor to recipient. It turns out that, “Only about 10-20% of the clothes collected in charity shops are sold in Britain to be worn again.” Most of the clothes are sold to specialist for-profit clothing recyclers who pay £100 a year for the right to give their clothing bins a charity logo. The recyclers in turn sell the clothing on to countries like Zambia, where it provides the basis of a local industry (again for-profit) that – arguably – has a devastating impact on domestic clothing suppliers. In the end, shirts get sold for £1.50 or less apiece – a day’s salary in Zambia.

As you can see I find this state of affairs disturbing – the Guardian’s writer is less more optimistic. I suppose I will continue to give away surplus clothing – it is better that it be used than thrown away. But I would like to see charities paid a lot more than £100 a year by companies using their good name to make profits.

24 March 2004

I continue to look for a good cheap way of searching my local hard disk as easily as I search the web. Jeremy Wagstaff has just produced a handly master list of hard disk indexers. I am still toying with all of them. All I want is decent Boolean search and Acrobat support. DTSearch has this but it also has a crappy interface and costs too much for consumer use.

80-20 doesn’t integrate with non-Outlook email (I use Eudora) – indeed if you don’t use Outlook it really really doesn’t want to install at all. X1’s price seems to have gone up from free to $50 to $100 and it doesn’t offer Boolean search. The latest entry, “HotBot Desktop”:http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb040322-1.shtml doesn’t offer Boolean search either though they say they are using DTSearch’s technology which should have been able to provide this function. I’ll still be taking a good look at it though.

23 March 2004

I just discovered that Amazon US is selling my book Dealing with E-Mail for 60% off – it’s $2.80! At that price you’d be crazy not to buy a copy. Here’s an overview of the book:

This book was designed to be a simple non-technical guide, inexpensive enough to give to everyone in an organization, that would nonetheless introduce workers at all levels to many of the key techniques they can use to manage email more effectively and the key security and legal issues they may face. These include:

  • Filing your email automatically
  • Managing email address books
  • Making sure your address does not get picked up by spammers and…
  • Removing spam automatically when it arrives.
  • Dealing with email-borne viruses
  • Writing clear and culturally-sensitive email
  • Preventing confidential email from being intercepted and read and
  • Being aware of legal issues that may arise including sexual harassment, commercial confidentiality and breach of contract.

The book has been written to be broadly applicable to users of any e-mail system and from any country.

As organizations increasingly use email as a business-critical tool they will become vulnerable to email-borne viruses, spam, legal problems and un-manageable volumes of unnecessary messages unless they ensure that everyone – not just the IT staff and HR managers – learns some of the basic techniques outlined in this book.

There is also a “companion site”:http://www.well.com/user/derb/dealingwithemail/ for the book containing more detailed information and up to date tips.

22 March 2004
Filed under:Useful web resources at3:44 pm

My most recent source of free SMS via the web – “Lycos”:http://www.lycos.co.uk/ – has stopped offering them and I would like to find a replacement. I used to use “O2”:http://www.o2.co.uk/ but they revised their privacy policy so that if you wanted to keep using them to send SMSes you had to be open to receiving third party marketing messages in return. ICQ claims to offer free UK SMS but a) they “don’t send to Virgin Mobile or 3”:http://web.icq.com/sms/smsnetworks/ and b) I have found their message sending to O2, Vodafone and Orange a little erratic. So can you make any other suggestions?

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