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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12 September 2012

I’m all in favour of attempts like that of the World Wide Web Foundation to make in their words “multi-dimensional measures of the Web’s growth, utility and impact on people and nations” but to call it the “first” such attempt would seem to be overlooking the strikingly similar ITU “Measuring the Information Society” programme or The World Economic Forum’s “Network Readiness Index” (there are and have been probably others too). There’s plenty of room for all though and each group of scholars has something to contribute (indeed the Web Index draws from ITU figures among others). If you are interested in the digital divide, check them all out!

8 October 2010

Storyful is a news agency based on an interesting idea that a lot of journalism scholars are talking up – journalists as curators, bringing together and highlighting the best news from social media. It is still in beta, so it’s perhaps premature to criticize the product but when I registered and went to take a look at the first story which interested me it had some flaws which indicate some of the potential problems with this kind of service.

Having recently visited Cambodia, the story on Cambodian child prostitution caught my eye. So what do I get? A prominent photo and trailer from a documentary on the subject which is (as far as I can tell) a product of the mainstream media. An introductory paragraph of information and claims, some of them quite controversial but without sourcing of any kind. A tweet from a Chicago-based comedian pointing to a related story – from the mainstream media. “Some informed opinion on the Cambodian sex industry” is two comments selected out of 84 youtube comments found on a two year old Al Jazeera news item. And lastly there are links to and excerpts from the Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation and Human Rights Watch.

Leaving aside problems of design and implementation (which can be fixed) this suggests two linked problems. First, that because of digital divide and linguistic difficulties, it can be hard to find social media sources for news from outside the industrialized world and that as a result a lot of what one can find eventually links back to the work of (more or less) mainstream journalists rather than citizen journalists. Also see Gonzalez-Bailon (2009) on how the mainstream news organizations and those they link to get most online buzz and Paterson (2007) on how the online news environment is still dominated by output from two major news agencies.

This is not in any way to denigrate the work of those behind storyful and other projects – it’s just to point out that social media does not (yet?) provide would-be news providers easy-to-process rich seams of raw news material unless such material is on subjects that appeal to social media users (see Thelwall 2010) and in countries where social media use is widespread. What’s needed first is more citizen journalistic capacity building in developing countries by organizations like the World Service Trust, OneWorld and Global Voices and more and cheaper internet there (eg you can’t get decent citizen journalism out of the Central African Republic if broadband costs 40 times the average salary there).

PS UK readers may be interested that there is an (as far as I know unrelated) BBC Three programme about sex trafficking in Cambodia coming up next Thursday at 21:00.

13 June 2010

I read a profile of Lu Xun (魯迅) in the Guardian which describes him as “China’s Dickens and Joyce rolled into one”. Surrounded as I am at the moment by Chinese students I was keen to learn more but I thought there might be little available in English – at least not for free. In an article I wrote ten years ago for Salon – The US-Wide Web I bemoaned the fact that the internet appeared to be dominated by the English language and by American content. Of course a lot has changed since then but I was still surprised to find that a free creative commons audiobook in English of some of his stories is available as well as some English translations as text online. Hurray for Creative Commons, the public domain and the internet!

PS if you are Chinese please comment and tell me what you think about Lu Xun and how his work and his place in China today have been described in the Guardian…

13 April 2010

I’ve been listening to the free Librivox audiobook of this for fun and I was surprised given that it was written in 1905 at how liberal its politics are – it contains often sympathetic references to most of the better known people’s revolts. I was also struck that although it was aimed at children it has in several places explanations of the Greek and Roman derivations of some of the vocabulary.

7 March 2010

I thought I would check out the top 100 most popular free audiobooks downloaded via Books Should Be Free and alongside the Swiss Family Robinson and other likely suspects I noted this:


24 December 2008

Remember I couldn’t get Google Talk to run on my non-Intel Mac? I can’t get the new Mac beta of BBC’s iPlayer to run either (well it runs but it isn’t recommended for non-Intel macs according to the BBC and the frame rate is lousy on my G4).

19 December 2008

BBC iPlayer now available on Mac – great! (What they mean is that you can download iPlayer programmes on these new platforms – before you could only watch streamed video).

24 November 2008

I’m busy downloading the demo of Red Alert 3 to celebrate making progress on my thesis and I thought I would try out BBC iPlayer’s streaming video option to watch Survivors at “high definition”. To my surprise the BBC video is quite close to download quality even while I’m downloading the demo at 400Kbps! I was dismissive of the likelihood that people would bother watching BBC TV live on iPlayer but at this quality it would be quite bearable.

And I’m old enough to remember waiting for plain text web pages to load in Mosaic…

PS I am enjoying Survivors so far even though it is hardly sophisticated entertainment…

9 October 2008

I found a way around the problem I complained of earlier – having no way to publish my list of subscribed podcasts from iTunes. Check out the list I just added at the right about two thirds of the way down and enjoy a great selection of largely speech-based podcast goodness. And just above that check out the list of posts I have read on others’ blogs and elected to share via Google Reader because I found them interesting.

8 October 2008

Even though I am a media junkie and have been following the financial crisis I have until now found it difficult to find trustworthy sources that would explain to me in simple terms:

1) Why is it all going pear-shaped?
2) To what extent will the US government’s plan fix the problem?
3) What will it cost (because the $700bn figure is not all going to just get spent without any return now or in future to the taxpayer)?
4) Is there a better way to try to solve the problem?
5) Who is to blame and what can we/should we do to them?

The This American Life radio programme helped once before with their excellent Giant Pool of Money episode on sub-prime mortgages. They have rushed out a new episode, Another Frightening Show about the Economy from the same reporting team (Alex Blumberg and some folks from NPR news). I have to say I found it less enlightening – probably because it had to fit a lot more in – but it still helped. If you don’t want to listen to the programme (though I think you should) here’s what I took away:

1) Greedy speculators found ways to gamble on the health of companies without facing government regulation that would have limited the amount of leverage they could use.
2) It’s not clear if the bailout will work, but hey we’ve got to try something!
3) We don’t know how much of the money we’re putting on the table we’re likely to lose.
4) We should be pushing Paulson to use the latitude built into the legislation to push for “stock injection” instead of just buying up bad debt. In other words don’t just give the banks money to bail them out for their crappy decisions, insist on some equity so if the bailout works the government has some assets for all that spending.
5) TAL doesn’t really tell us who to lynch – looks like the decision not to regulate was made in a bipartisan way.

PS the NPR team also has a daily weblog Planet Money and podcast to help you track developments. A good summary of their answers to questions 3 and 4 is here.

If anyone has alternative answers to my questions I would be interested to hear them – send me a comment!

Update: I see that the UK bailout looks like the stock injection option that NPR suggests most economists would favour…

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