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

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31 July 2004

If the “description of Cybergypsies I gave earlier”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_arts_reviews.html#001171 piqued your curiosity there is an interview with the author of Cybergypsies, Indra Singha on “The Well”:http://well.com in a part of it that is open to the public – “inkwell”:http://engaged.well.com/engaged.cgi?c=inkwell.vue where lots of author interviews take place (his is number 52). It turns out that the promotional website he created for the book has been (incompletely) captured via the “Internet Archive”:http://web.archive.org/web/20010610025144/www.wiseserpent.com/cybergypsies/menu.html and what do you know – the multi-user dungeon he spent much of his time in is “still running”:http://games.world.co.uk/shades/!

30 July 2004
Filed under:Arts Reviews at9:12 am

I have always admired “John Frankenheimer”:http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001239/’s best work. Films like “The Manchurian Candidate”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056218/, “Seven Days in May”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058576/ and “French Connection II”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073018/ are well-known (at least among film buffs). I even liked “Ronin”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0122690/ one of the last films he worked on before he died.

I just saw one of his early films (1966) that I feel was at least as good as his famous ones but has received less attention – Seconds. It’s a trenchant commentary on materialism and an emotionally gripping, imaginatively shot parable based on the (not particularly original) idea of faking your own death to have another chance to live your life. It isn’t hard to figure out from almost the beginning how it will end but I was consistently engaged throughout. If you can get ahold of it at your local cult video store do try (North Americans you can apparently get it on DVD or video “from Amazon”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005RDAJ/imdb-adbox/002-2907813-7514440).

P.S. I didn’t realise – “Jonathan Demme”:http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001129/ is producing “his own version of The Manchurian Candidate”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0368008/ (the director is “interviewed on NPR”:http://www.npr.org/rundowns/rundown.php?prgDate=29-Jul-2004&prgId=2).

28 July 2004

Danah Boyd says she’ll double her contribution to Kerry if ten readers contribute by tomorrow.

I’m not crazy about Kerry (as a “recent posting”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_current_affairs_us.html#001180 might indicate) but I don’t think he’d be a bad president and I think it would be catastrophic for the US and for the world if we had another four years of Bush in the White House.

I am one of those who has decided to donate as a result (and I already donated once earlier). If Bush does get in I don’t want to have thought I could have done more to stop him. It depresses me that my most important vote is the one I make with my wallet but that seems to be the way American politics has gone.

If you are at all motivated to join me please do so and let her know. And do it soon – tomorrow is the last day you can donate!

P.S. It’s annoying that the Kerry site seems to believe you have to be a US resident to donate (the online form insists on a zip code). Don’t they want my money? There is no legal reason I can’t donate as far as I know (I am an American citizen, though I don’t boast much about it these days).

Microsoft Watch has created a Web ranking tool which brings together various publicly-available ways of assessing the popularity of a given page – Google’s PageRank, Alexa’s traffic rank and a count of total external backlinks from Yahoo (which reports these much better than Google apparently).

None of these are very precise measures but they are the only ones available for sites that are not big enough to turn up in commercial surveys of web popularity as far as I know – anyone got any better ones? Come to that are there any easy ways to get at some of the site popularity data produced by people like “Comscore”:http://www.comscore.com/ without paying them commercial rates?

27 July 2004

O’Reilly’s Digital Democracy Teach-In at the “O’Reilly Emerging Technology conference”:http://www.oreillynet.com/et2004/ is available in a “variety of audio formats”:http://www.archive.org/audio/audio-details-db.php?collectionid=digidemo2004-gatekeepers&collection=conference_proceedings via “Archive.org”:http://www.archive.org/audio/etree.php along with a few other conferences (mostly to do with technology).

I must confess the main reason I found it useful to listen to is that it renewed my passion for my subject by reminding me how much of what is said about (for example) the democratic importance of blogging I disagree with and would like to properly test empirically.

On the other hand the keynote speech at ETech by “Marc Smith”:http://research.microsoft.com/~masmith/ (a sociologist at Microsoft best known for “studying usenet”:http://netscan.research.microsoft.com/Static/Default.asp was “fascinating”:http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/network/2004/02/11/etech_keynotes.html – “audio here”:http://www.archive.org/audio/audio-details-db.php?collection=conference_proceedings&collectionid=etech2004-smith.

26 July 2004

As pointed out on Crooked Timber at last there is a study on UK political weblogs (downloadable “here”:http://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/assets/Final_Blog_Report_.pdf). Political weblogging really isn’t well established here in the UK though and it shows. The Hansard Society chose eight weblogs to focus on and even then “one of them was from overseas (Blog for America)”:http://www.blogforamerica.com/ and another, “VoxPolitics”:http://www.voxpolitics.com/, while often interesting, is also pretty much dormant at the moment.

Because the Hansard Society is mostly interested in building interest in political participation their emphasis – unusually – was not on the weblog creators but on what people who read them thought. They chose a (fairly) random jury of eight readers and made them comment on what they read, whether they found it interesting and whether it made them want to write a weblog themselves.

Perhaps not surprisingly, few of the readers found the weblogs they were assigned interesting (they might have been more enthusiastic if their local MP or councillor had a weblog but of course that would be pretty unlikely). Also unsurprisingly, only one of the eight actually expressed an interest in producing a weblog of their own after reading them.

It seems to me that at least in the early to middle stages the main importance of political weblogs (To the extent that they are important) would be in the way that they enable policy wonks to talk to other policy wonks as observed in the “paper I remarked on earlier”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_academia.html#001178 about US political weblogs.

Thanks also to “Harry”:http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/ (one of the bloggers mentioned who told “Chris Bertram”:http://eis.bris.ac.uk/~plcdib/ at Crooked Timber about it)

25 July 2004

“Chris Bertram”:http://eis.bris.ac.uk/~plcdib/ posts on Crooked Timber about the “UN’s Human Development Report 2004”:http://hdr.undp.org/reports/global/2004/ which has produced (inter alia) a “human poverty index”. Predictably the fact that the UK, Ireland and the US are numbers 15, 16 and 17 among developed countries on that index has been remarked upon and just as predictably the low placement of the Anglo-Saxon countries is blamed by some on fiddling of statistics. If you are interested in inequality (as I am) you could do worse than read the long thread of mostly thoughtful comments after the Crooked Timber posting.

24 July 2004
Filed under:Current Affairs (US),Old media at1:24 pm

There’s a lot of blather in their John Kerry profile and the accompanying “editorial”:http://economist.com/printedition/displayStory.cfm?Story_id=2941610 but some interesting things came out as well. They claim that with him as leader:

pre-emption would remain a policy, Ariel Sharon would be backed unflinchingly. Reading between the lines a little, the Kyoto Protocol would remain unjoined; so in all likelihood would the International Criminal Court

I don’t support any of those policies and I didn’t think they were Kerry’s but I suppose I can overlook those in light of his main domestic plank – ‘rescinding a tax cut on people earning more than $200,000 and spending the proceeds on a goodish health-care plan’.

It would be nice to have a president who, as The Economist puts it,

…marshals material exhaustively, immerses himself in details, and forms judgments on a balance of competing evidence…

(they seem to see this as a weakness).

In passing I find it startling that according to an Economist poll they cite 60% of the American public finds Bush “intelligent” and 55% find him “knowledgeable” (Kerry’s numbers in these categories are at least higher on both ratings!)

22 July 2004

The report on children’s Internet use I “mentioned earlier”:http://blog.org/archives/000905.html has now been made available in full.

UK Children Go Online is an excellent overview of kids’ online experiences in Britain and I am pleased to see it taking a very sensible balanced view of the risks and benefits of childrens’ online use. From the conclusion:

one cannot simply recommend greater monitoring of children by parents. From children’s point of view, some key benefits of the internet depend on maintaining some privacy and freedom from their parents, making them less favourable particularly to intrusive or hidden forms of parental regulation. Moreover, the internet must be perceived by children as an exciting and free space for play and experimentation if they are to become capable and creative actors in this new environment.

I am a little disappointed, however, that the press release leads on “parents underestimating risks”:http://personal.lse.ac.uk/bober/PressReleaseJuly04.pdf and lo and behold the “BBC’s coverage”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/3910319.stm doesn’t mention anything about the possible benefits of childrens’ online use or the divide that was found in the ‘quality’ of their use.

It is true that, ’57 per cent have come into contact with pornography online (compared with 16
per cent of parents who say their children have seen porn online)’ but as “Josephine Fraser”:http://fraser.typepad.com/edtechuk/2004/07/lse_uk_children.html points out a large problem with this survey is that it’s investigating ‘children’ between the ages of 9 and 19 (of course the data is usually split by age in the body of the report but not often in the summaries).

If you are concerned mainly about under-12s exposed to porn (for example) the proportion drops to 21 percent and this doesn’t indicate how often this exposure happened or how ‘severe’ it is. Would a single exposure to the promotional front page of a porn site in a few years of a ten-year-old’s surfing really be traumatic? Doesn’t it depend on what kind of stuff is considered pornographic (the report does not provide a definition)? I presume such sites don’t normally display really hard-core stuff on their front page without payment and young kids are exposed to soft-core images like that in lots of other ways. It’s true that 20% of 12-19 year olds say they have seen porn on the Internet five or more times but 17% of the same kids say they have seen it that often on TV.

Likewise it may be true that, ‘8 per cent of young users who go online at least once a week say they have met face to face with someone they first met on the internet’ but of those only 1% – one person (!) age unknown – said they didn’t enjoy the experience.

I guess as the report concludes what you see in it depends on your prior expectations and I am a ‘glass half full’ person more keen to ensure that kids have the opportunity to become digitally literate without having parents and teachers excessively limiting their chance to explore. And of course I am not the parent of an Internet-surfing child – if I were my views might be different!

“Henry Farrell”:http://www.henryfarrell.net/ and “Daniel Drezner”:http://www.danieldrezner.com/blog/ have published a first draft of a paper on politics and blogs on Crooked Timber. It includes some analysis of the link distribution of such sites and also, crucially, acknowledges the importance of the early blogger journalists as a way to legitimise the blogosphere for ‘mainstream’ journalists to use it. It includes a survey of American journalists (including elite journalists) indicating which weblogs they read (more on that survey “here”:http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/001321.html and raw data “here”:http://www.danieldrezner.com/research/Blogsurveypublic.xls.

It would be interesting to know what the power positions of the respondents were within their news organizations…

There were some minor nits I picked in a comment to the Crooked Timber posting but otherwise I think it’s shaping up to be a valuable contribution to the debate about political weblogs.

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