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

Archive forJanuary, 2004 | back to home

8 January 2004
Filed under:Useful web resources,Weblogs at11:04 pm

Dave Winer has created a catchily-named service – Share Your OPML. It doesn’t do anything very clever yet, but put together with some collaborative filtering software I am sure it could… To explain for the 99% of the world who have better things to do with their time than memorising TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) or in this case FLAs – RSS readers can normally import and export OPML files which are simply lists of the sites you subscribe to. What ‘Share Your OPML’ does, then, is let you compare what blogs and other news sources you read regularly with others. Blogrolling, which has a much bigger installed base, could do this too but so far it hasn’t done much with its data (except produce its own top 100 list).

Anyhow, if those of you who do read this via RSS could pop along to that site and sign up – you might push this humble blog into Winer’s top 100!

P.S. If you’re wondering what on earth an RSS reader is, I “posted about that”:https://blog.org/archives/cat_weblogs.html#000880 here too.

It has been noted before that search engines’s algorithms don’t magically provide the ‘best’ results for any query – they only provide the best matches using a given algorithm, and that algorithm can be biased. The latest issue of “First Monday”:http://firstmonday.org/ – an excellent e-journal – includes a detailed examination of one key aspect. Dr “Susan L Gerhart”:http://pr.erau.edu/~gerharts/ has attempted to determine whether the problems with such algorithms tend to conceal controversies and while her results (done on a small scale) don’t seem to show consistent failures she nonetheless suggests that search engines may indeed suppress controversy and adduces some interesting arguments why this might be the case alongside recommendations for search engine programmers of how to produce more representative results.

7 January 2004

Whether the weblogging ‘community’ is ‘fair’ or not depends on whether you look at opportunity or outcome. Not everyone has the opportunity to blog (this takes time and an internet connection) but as “Danah Boyd”:http://www.danah.org/ points out in a pair of recent postings about blogging and fairness the weblogging community looks even more unfair when you look at outcome – who is actually doing it.

In her first post on the subject she suggests out that propensity to blog seems to be “concentrated among straight white men”:http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/001400.html#001400 – in the “second”:http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/001402.html#001402 she suggests that just because the world of blogging is in principle open to all (or at least all with time and money to spare) and therefore fair (according to “Clay Shirky”:http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2004/01/06/joi_are_blogs_just.php) it doesn’t mean that the situation is necessarily right.

Clay appears to agree but suggests, ‘I can’t imagine a system that would right the obvious but hard to quantify injustice of the weblog world that wouldn’t also destroy its dynamism.’

Both he and Joi Ito, whose “posting”:http://joi.ito.com/archives/2004/01/06/are_blogs_just.html sparked the discussion in the first place seem to suggest that if a solution were to be found it would be through changes to the software itself. I think the definition of the problem and its solution needs to be broader – a ‘technical solution’ to the problem of inequality of participation and outcome in weblogging is not likely because that problem is largely a reflection of inequalities in society itself.

[Update: Oops – it seems I missed a later “post by Clay”:http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2004/01/06/boyd_ahtisaari_and_butterfield_v_me_dont_bet_on_me.php in which he actually partly makes my point below himself, saying there is ‘equality of technological opportunity, but one heavily dependent on other, external factors.’]

My own evolving PhD project at the “LSE”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/pressAndInformationOffice/aboutLSE/information.htm
will be looking at what kind of people do Internet self-publishing, why those people do it and what social effects this new capability is having (currently using Bourdieu’s work as a theoretical basis).

The main point that has been largely missing so far in the discussion I think is that the barriers to blogging or other self-publishing (in the developed world at least) are not solely (or even mainly) money and time but attitude. It takes a certain attitude to want to share your thoughts and experience in this way and many people who one might argue should contribute (poor and/or minority people for example) don’t because (among other things) it isn’t the kind of thing they would think of doing and nobody they know does it.

If one believes that it would be of benefit both to society and to the individual participants that the practice of weblogging were more widely distributed, making the tools cheaper and easier to use is a necessary but not sufficient step. The benefits of such activity would need to be demonstrated and promoted by and among people of those other communities.

P.S. Has anyone done a recent study of webloggers or personal home page creators that looks not just at age and sex but at education level, occupation, ethnicity or better still class?

P.P.S. There’s lots more on the question of whether we should worry mainly about inequality of opportunity or of outcome (when looking in this case at the economy) over at “Crooked Timber”:http://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001040.html

A fascinating news clip from October 1993 that gives what seems now a utopian view of the Internet.

The playwright cum Internet thinker John Allen who was interviewed (where is he now?) suggested that while you’d think people would be really badly behaved thanks to the Internet’s anonymity they are actually very polite because they feel they are part of a global community. Given the relatively small number of usenet users at the time and their high level of education (mostly scientists at that time I would imagine) it isn’t that surprising. Then they let AOLers in! And as for anonymity it was pretty illusory then and is even more so now…

And to think I had been “online for nine years”:http://www.davidbrake.org/nethist.htm when that programme was broadcast… Come to think of it I’m in my twentieth year online – that’s a pretty scary figure!

Thanks to “Boing Boing”:http://boingboing.net/2004_01_01_archive.html#107332806643610998 for the link.

5 January 2004

It’s good to see the UK government has ambitious plans to ensure its citizens have Internet access. Recently British Telecom (responding no doubt to government pressure) announced it will guarantee that all of Britain will have “broadband availability by 2005”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3276621.stm – possibly to be accomplished using new “radio broadband”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3323681.stm technology it is testing.

More impressive still, it now seems the Government is promising “home access for all”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3320967.stm – ‘every home in the UK should have a connection to online services through a digital network by 2008 – whether through a personal computer, digital television, mobile phone or other device’.

Of course this is not as marvelous a promise as it seems since it is not a commitment to provision of the full Internet – only nebulously-defined ‘online services’ – almost certainly limited at the margins to email and basic government services. It also says nothing about likely user costs or incentives for use (without which the theoretical capacity to connect will likely languish unused in the third of UK households who don’t already have Internet access).

4 January 2004

“Legal Affairs”:http://www.legalaffairs.org – an American magazine ‘at the intersection of law and life’ has produced an interesting piece about “mail order brides”:http://www.legalaffairs.org/issues/January-February-2004/story_labi_janfeb04.html which follows a few around – concentrating on Russian ones coming to America. According to the article there are at least 200 matchmaking agencies in the United States that broker marriages between American men and foreign women, arranging up to 6,000 unions a year (actually I am surprised the number isn’t larger). It’s broadly positive though it mentions a couple of disastrous unions and briefly discusses some of the legal protections that have been proposed to help protect the women. An interview (broadcast on “Thinking Allowed”:http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/thinkingallowed_20030910.shtml) with “Nicole Constable”:http://www.pitt.edu/~pittanth/fac.html – a sociologist who studied the phenomenon in “Romance on a Global Stage”:http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/9922.html – is also surprisingly up-beat (she covers Chinese and Filipina women’s experiences).

3 January 2004

Daniel Drezner cites a “Chicago Tribune article”:http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0312250267dec25,1,7299722.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed about Xmas in Eastern Europe which notes in passing:

The biggest obstacle credit card marketers had to overcome in Hungary was fear of fraud. But consumer concerns about the safety of their cards have led to an important security innovation made possible by the explosive growth of mobile phones in Hungary.

Each time a card is used, the cardholder immediately gets a text message on his or her cell phone confirming the transaction and notifying the cardholder of the balance. Initially developed in Hungary, the messaging system is used widely in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is now being introduced in Western Europe.

Ingenious! Not an infallible system, however – around 2% of SMSes don’t get through I seem to recall so customers should be warned that there would still be a chance their credit card transactions could be un-confirmed. Also there is a small cost per message which would eventually be passed on to customers somehow through higher fees, lower rates or whatever.

2 January 2004

A U of Berkeley study – How Much Information?– has attempted once again to estimate how much data of all kinds is generated across the world annually. It was done in 1999 and again in 2002 so we can see how things have changed. A couple of interesting facts culled from the executive summary:

  • The United States produces about 40% of the world’s new stored information, including 33% of the world’s new printed information, 30% of the world’s new film titles, 40% of the world’s information stored on optical media, and about 50% of the information stored on magnetic media.
  • Email generates 400,000 Terabytes of “information” each year – it would be interesting to calculate how much of this is signatures and quoted text…
  • The searchable Web by contrast is only 170 Terabytes and if you count Internet-accessible databases you get a further 66-91,000 Terabytes (very rough estimate)
  • North America generates lots more paper than Europe – “each of the inhabitants of North America consumes 11,916 sheets of paper (24 reams), and inhabitants of the European Union consume 7,280 sheets of paper (15 reams). At least half of this paper is used in printers and copiers to produce office documents”. So much for the paperless office!
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