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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29 October 2004

Back in September I wanted to know how to find out “where the money comes from to fund US politicians”:http://blog.org/archives/001231.html and was surprised at how hard it seemed to be to get at the info. Fortunately (if a little late) the great guys at “SearchEngineWatch”:http://blog.searchenginewatch.com/blog/041028-604a just provided an excellent overview of a number of search facilities. Interestingly, “Google employees seem to lean overwhelmingly towards supporting Kerry”:http://insidegoogle.blogspot.com/2004/10/google-says-to-vote-google-employees.html (I knew they hired smart people…). Oddly though my own political contribution doesn’t seem to appear.

P.S. “Open Secrets”:http://www.opensecrets.org/ (‘your guide to the money in US elections’) which seemed not to respond when I looked in September is now back online.

P.P.S. I just came across a post over at the Berkman Centre about Cameron Marlow who has found a number of other “political hacks”:http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/home/home?wid=10&func=viewSubmission&sid=605 (in the sense of interesting uses of technology in the service of politics not to be confused with politicians’ spin doctors!) including a “text analysis of the presidential debates”:http://overstated.net/04/10/01-presidential-debate-analysis.

28 October 2004

Michael Feldstein “suggests”:http://www.elearnmag.org/subpage/sub_page.cfm?section=3&list_item=25&page=1 that the tendency of bloggers to link to other bloggers, usually done as a way of crediting them with the idea, tends to smother discussion or debate: “The very same hyper-linking impulse that makes it easy to pass along an idea with a minimum of effort also makes it easy to appear as if I’m agreeing with the post I’ve referenced when, in fact, I’m just deferring to it.”

From an academic perspective I think Cass Sunstein “got there first”:http://bostonreview.mit.edu/BR26.3/sunstein.html (though he was talking about Internet mediated discussion more generally). I know this is one of the things that bothers Habermas about the Internet (I asked him). Shanto Iyengar “disagrees”:http://bostonreview.mit.edu/BR26.3/iyengar.html.

Thanks to Jeremy Wagstaff for the link

20 October 2004

I cannot understand why this government feels compelled to liberalise gambling laws in this country. I find it extraordinary that the Government would see casinos as a means of regional regeneration. Of course not all the bill is bad – it does ban advertising for online casinos and bans fruit machines from places without proper supervision like takeaways and minicab offices – but it also allows for more and larger casinos.

I can’t cite the relevant research but from what I remember the evidence suggests much of the money spent on gambling comes from the poor and the elderly and it flows to large multinational corporations (if anyone can refer me to hard data on this I would be interested). There are already 400,000 ‘problem gamblers’ in the UK and the Henley Centre suggests this bill could add another 300,000. According to Gamcare for each problem gambler 15 others are affected.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists found serious problems with the bill – in fact the joint committee heard from five groups all opposed to the bill. In addition the NHS’ Health Development Agency has produced an excellent article outlining some of the dangers.

I don’t recall any groundswell of popular enthusiasm for increased gambling being expressed – in fact one poll suggests 90% are opposed to further liberalisation.

I can’t understand why there isn’t more protest around this issue. The Salvation Army has responded to the government’s proposals but while it is criticising the bill it does not seem to be running any kind of online campaign.

To my dismay, not only did there seem not to be an anti-gambling lobby group on the BBC’s iCan site – it provides information on how to run a lottery to raise money for your cause! There’s an anti-gambling bill campaign there now however and I encourage you to join it and if you are in the UK see what your MP says about the bill and lobby him or her to stop it

I just discovered I have a powerful ally on this issue (if a strange bedfellow) the Daily Mail is running a campaign against the gambling bill as well. If you are in the UK you can join their campaign by emailing casino@dailymail.co.uk, giving your name and address, and saying you also oppose the gambling bill.

1 September 2004

Cory says, ‘I don’t know where he [Dennis Hastert, GOP house speaker] gets his money from’.

I thought it would be easy to find out but I haven’t found a free site that provides an index of politician’s interests in the US the way “They Work for You”:http://www.theyworkforyou.com/ does here in the UK. “Open Secrets”:http://www.opensecrets.org/ seems to be down and “Fundrace 2004”:http://www.fundrace.org/ only deals with the presidential race. Anyone fancy spending some money with “Political Money Line”:http://www.tray.com/ to find out where Hastert does get his funding? Anyone know a good site that would let you find out for free?

P.S. This is sparked off by the “row”:http://joi.ito.com/archives/2004/09/01/soros_responds_to_drug_money_insinuation.html over Hastert’s seeming claim that George Soros could be receiving funds from ‘drug groups’.

28 August 2004

Following on from my brief mention of “blogs from US troops in Iraq”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_current_affairs_world.html#001217 I have discovered a collection of “pictures taken by troops in Iraq with picturephones”:http://www.yafro.com/frontline.php – you need to click on the ‘comments’ part or mouse over the photos to see the context they give them.

Incidentally (and probably not coincidentally) the blogger who was interviewed on NPR I mentioned earlier has now had to pull his weblog down.

Thanks to Torill Mortensen for the link

22 August 2004

JD Lasica “suggests”:http://ojr.org/ojr/technology/1092267863.php that because blogs like “BoingBoing”:http://boingboing.net/ and “Slashdot”:http://slashdot.com/ are linked to more often than many websites of many ‘old media’ organizations, this means bloggers are starting to trust other bloggers more than the mainstream media.

While “Technorati’s chart of in-links”:http://ojr.org/ojr/uploads/1092273094.jpg (and “pubsub’s”:http://www.pubsub.com/linkranks.php) comparing ‘old media’ properties and blogs are interesting to see, they under-state the importance of the mainstream media to set the agenda because a very substantial proportion of the posts to blogs that are linked to are in turn derived directly from those same old media sites. A better (but more difficult to do) analysis would be to try to measure how many of the posts most linked to add significant facts or thought out opinions (more than just ‘I agree’) to existing debates in the press.

Moreover, it is absurd to extrapolate from the readership habits of bloggers to the readership habits of the wider public. Bloggers are in no way representative – we are much more likely to read other people’s weblogs than the broader Internet population (see “the analysis I did earlier”:http://blog.org/archives/001206.html) and of course most of us are geekier (Slashdot is the most popular weblog cited – QED).

19 August 2004

If you want to see what influential US Internet pundit/policy wonks think about the potential of the Internet to change politics you should keep an eye on the Extreme Democracy weblog and download the chapters of the book in progress there.

“Emergent Democracy”:http://www.extremedemocracy.com/archives/2004/08/chapter_1_emerg.html which I “commented on earlier”:http://blog.org/archives/000687.html is there for example. It has been edited since my comments but it still appears to overlook the very real problem of the continuing digital divide both in the US and across the world and both in Internet access and, more importantly, in the forms of Internet use. I suspect most of the chapters of this book shares this problem though I have yet to read more of them.

All the evidence I have been able to derive (based on the raw data of a Pew survey in Mar/April 2003 which was made into a “report”:http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/113/report_display.asp) suggests weblogs – particularly political ones – are read by a very small audience. To quote some earlier research I did based on the Pew data:

17 August 2004

Keith Hampton has announced the launch of “i-neighbors”:http://www.i-neighbors.org/, a set of free web services for neighborhoods in Canada and the US inspired by the “research”:http://web.mit.edu/knh/www/pub.html into the connection between virtual and f2f communities done by himself and Barry Wellman. With their software you can

# Meet and communicate with your neighbors.
# Find neighbors with similar interests.
# Share information on local companies and services.
# Organize and advertise local events.
# Vocalize local concerns and ideas.

Alas the site’s services cannot be used by people outside the US and Canada because of legal concerns – particularly about our EU privacy laws, apparently, possibly because the service remains part of an MIT research programme and “data will be gathered for that research”:http://www.i-neighbors.org/privacy.php – but hopefully the BBC will do something similar for the UK at least. Meanwhile, “Upmystreet”:http://www.upmystreet.com/ here in the UK offers some of the necessary services.

I encourage any North Americans reading this to use this software to try to bring together the people in your community and I look forward to reading the research that will come out of this project.

10 August 2004

WebSM (where SM stands for survey methods), ‘is dedicated to the methodological issues of Web surveys, but it also covers the broader area of interaction between modern technologies and survey data collection.’ It chiefly provides a collection of bibliographic references and some full text. Though the site itself is academic a fair amount of the papers are produced by and/or aimed at marketers. It has an index of survey software suppliers but this isn’t very handy as it doesn’t seem to include free software and is only organized by country.

Free commercial hosts for online surveys include my3q (don’t be put off by the Korean – it offers up to 5 questionnaires without question number or respondent number limits!), SurveyMonkey (their free service handles 10 questions and 100 responses), Zoomerang (free up to 30 questions, 100 responses but results stored for limited period). QuestionPro has a particularly good student offer – you can conduct one survey free of charge with unlimited questions and up to 5000 responses as long as you cite them publicly and link to their site from your project.

Castle is a suite of quiz software (adaptable presumably to other survey use) which is created for UK higher academics to use (free of charge) but appears to generate CGI scripts which must then be uploaded to your own server. GetFAST is similarly designed to help teachers get assessments from their students and allows for up to 20 questions but could also be adapted for more broad use I imagine.

I recall learning about a service run by a US university somewhere that was also free for academic use but I can’t remember where it is.

Later… While my3q is tempting I just realised that it doesn’t appear to let you download the results- you have to rely on their web stats which limits its usefulness. Advanced Survey at $25 a month (approx) looks pretty good but it isn’t clear if they support branching – for example, if my respondents answer yes to question 1 then don’t show them questions 2-4.

Zoomerang has a discount for educators for its full version I see ($99 for 3 months) and appears to do branching and allow downloading. QuestionPro allows branching and downloading of data but the non-academic free trial option only captures 25 respondents over a single month.

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.

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