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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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.

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/!

19 July 2004

The Cybergypsies : A True Tale of Lust, War, & Betrayal on the Electronic Frontier by Indra Sinha is yet another book about unusual experiences online but with several key points of interest. Many such books were written by over-excited US journalists who just dipped into that world. This was written by someone based in the UK who had a life outside the online world (a responsible job, wife and child) but who got very involved in online communities. It’s also of some historical interest because he was writing about the pre-Internet online world where being online 24/7 wouldn’t just cost you time but a considerable amount of money.

He gives an interesting, colourful and personal glimpse of what life online was like back then for some but though the book appears to be an autobiography it is written in a deliberately poetical/impressionistic style leaving the reader uncertain how much of what they’ve read they can believe.

If there is someone out there reading this blog who was around online in the UK back in the early to mid 90s, hung out on Shades or the Vortex, met ‘bear’ there and has read the book I would be interested in your comments (public or private). How was he seen in those communities after he published? I have a feeling I have met one or two people who were there…

10 July 2004

An article from the Chicago Tribune about how a neighbourhood email list helped bring neighbours together. “Keith Hampton”:http://mysocialnetwork.net/’s new research appears to “show the same thing”:http://web.mit.edu/giving/spectrum/spring04/internet-connection.html but with a caveat (not noted in the article about it I just linked to). From what I remember of a presentation he gave a while ago online-enhanced networking only seems to take place in areas already conducive to neighbor to neighbor contact – when for example it was tried in an urban apartment block it didn’t take off.

There was a similar earlier article about a virtual community in Orange Country I “blogged about”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_virtual_communities.html#000949 but the LA Times’ link no longer works (curse them!).

9 July 2004

A plugin for Movable Type weblogs that allows you to send out notifications to subscribed users when a new comment is posted to an entry to which they have subscribed. This works well with message boards that employ it. I hope “WordPress”:http://www.wordpress.org/ implements the same thing as I am planning to migrate to it shortly (I like the nested categories and the ability to post password-protected posts).

16 June 2004

“David Wilcox”:http://partnerships.typepad.com/civic/2003/02/about_david_wil.html, consultant on ICT use by the community and voluntary sector, talks about a new review of the literature on community informatics in the UK by veteran UK academics Barry Loader and Leigh Keeble.

It makes disturbing (though not surprising) reading, indicating that despite the Government’s best efforts these programmes often don’t reach the most excluded and rarely increase civic engagement (except among the already engaged). Take a look at the “summary of the report”:http://www.jrf.org.uk/knowledge/findings/socialpolicy/584.asp or “download it as a PDF”:http://www.jrf.org.uk/bookshop/eBooks/1859351980.pdf

In amongst the gloom and doom there are some suggestions for better practice in future – siting internet access centres in the community rather than in libraries or colleges and organizing training around people’s perceived needs rather than forcing them into formal courses for example – both designed to attract people who have had negative experiences with formal education.

Underlying my own research is a belief that ICT can have an emancipatory effect – for some at least – but that mere provision of the technology (closing the ‘access divide’) is not enough. Community informatics programmes must lean much more heavily towards the ‘community’ in their titles if they are to succeed.

Also see “this earlier blog posting”:http://blog.org/archives/000990.html on similar research. Some there suggest that while library access may not be a good way for new people to access online resources long term it may have a useful role in introducing people to online resources. I still have my doubts but take a look at the two reports cited there and let me know what you think…

9 June 2004

The 4290 inhabitants of a bunch of really isolated islands off the coast of Scotland were given computers and Internet access through some government programme. Then a few months later the BBC turned up and tried to encourage them to produce weblogs.

Well, after a couple of ill-attended meetings and promotion in the local media, altogether 72 people had created blogs by the end of six months (of those, only eight have been “updated within the last week”:http://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/whereilive/westernhighlandsandislands/islandblogging/bloggers/). Of course part of the relatively low takeup might be to do with the fact that the BBC blogs were hosted by the BBC and were pre-moderated – you’d post something and it would take a day to be approved! Not surprisingly (since these people live in pretty close contact with their neighbours) none of the weblogs tried to be controversial in their communities or political – instead they tended to concentrate on mundane day to day community events.

I spoke to the man from the BBC (Richard Holmes) after his presentation at “NotCon”:http://www.notcon04.com/ and he said that some of the community leaders on the island did take up blogging early on but abandoned it and that those who kept blogging were a cross-section of the community. I hope some more in-depth studies have been done on this experiment and I will be interested to see how many of the people who were started off blogging carry on doing it once the BBC stops the experiment (due to finish this month).

It’s interesting to me that even with 100% access and encouragement in the end only .1% of the islands’ population ended up blogging regularly. I wish I had been there to gather some ethnographic detail that would explain why (though I have a few guesses).

2 June 2004

A month ago I put my two cents into the discussion going on “here”:http://www2.iro.umontreal.ca/~paquetse/cgi-bin/om.cgi?Research_Blogs/Self-Organizing_Directory_Development about what an ideal database of research weblogs would look like. Lots of interesting ideas on the page but I don’t know, alas, if any development is actually going ahead. I wish I had the expertise to do something myself. Maybe someone will pick up the ball during the summer break?

See this page for more postings about weblog metadata.

27 May 2004
Filed under:Academia,Virtual Communities,Weblogs at9:32 pm

The site owner has revealed that it will vanish on the 9th of June, thus putting an end to a fascinating blog that shot from nowhere to (relative) fame in a little more than a year by providing a place for (mostly American) junior academics and PhD students to vent their frustration and share knowledge.

I was initially complacent, thinking ‘well if I want it I can always check out the Internet Archive’ but the last ‘backup’ of the site by the Internet Archive took place “5th June 2003”:http://web.archive.org/web/20030605225140/http://invisibleadjunct.com/ – a year’s worth of insights will be lost forever! Will nobody step forth to persuade the mystery owner to keep it going? Or hand it over to a third party?

(This also is an unwelcome reminder of the ‘fragility’ of cyberspace – how, even with the Internet Archive, pages can appear suddenly and disappear suddenly without leaving a trace…)

24 May 2004

I have been thinking for a little while now that something needs to change in the practice of blogrolling. People use a lengthy blogroll to indicate what other blogs they consider interesting (telling something about their own interests) and to encourage others to link to them, but what use are they to the rest of the people actually reading the weblogs themselves? “BlogRolling”:http://www.blogrolling.com/members.phtml’s practice of just listing them all in a column without comment seems to me particularly pointless – who is going to go and look through all the blogs on someone’s list of 50 – a mix of friends and work colleagues and random interesting stuff – on the off chance that some of them will be interesting?

That’s why I have a “single link”:http://www.bloglines.com/public/derb/ on my already over-crowded right hand bar which leads you to the 104 weblogs I am currently tracking, all sorted into categories and sometimes even with descriptions thanks to “bloglines”:http://www.bloglines.com/. But I worry that automated tools that measure my connectedness like “Technorati”:http://www.technorati.com/ will not capture this and visitors may overlook the link.

So do I include a long useless list of links somewhere just so robots can read them? What do you think? Is there a better way to tackle this? Could bloglines and the blog indexing/ratings people get together somehow?

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