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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3 May 2004

Eric Lee makes an interesting argument – he suggests virus writers are targetting working class people (because they don’t have the money for anti-virus software and are less lilely to have the time to develop the experience or skills to avoid viruses). I can’t see that virus writers actually bear working class people any ill will but I do think it is worth pointing out viruses as one more reason why use of the Internet is less likely among the working class.

I disagree with his suggestion following on from this that unions and other service organizations should be promoting open source software to the working class as a way for them to avoid vulnerability to viruses. As I have “said earlier”:https://blog.org/archives/cat_open_source.html#000215 because it is still not fully user-friendly it may be difficult to train non-computer literate (or indeed semi-literate) people to use. I also worry about whether the basic skills Linux users learn will be useful if they enter the world of work where the environment is Windows.

25 April 2004

I start far more posts than I actually post (I have 30 in draft at the moment) because I am disciplining myself to one post a day. Which is why I am only just now bringing My So-Called Blog (written in January) to your attention.

It isn’t very deep or academically rigorous but it’s nonetheless fascinating to me because it shows the motivations and some of the consequences of this behaviour. My favourite quote:

He wanted his posts to be read, and feared that people would read them, and hoped that people would read them, and didn’t care if people read them. He wanted to be included while priding himself on his outsider status. And while he sometimes wrote messages that were explicitly public — announcing a band practice, for instance — he also had his own stringent notions of etiquette. His crush had an online journal, but J. had never read it; that would be too intrusive, he explained.

Thanks to Many-to-Many for the link

16 April 2004

Lessig’s arguments are familiar to me by now (as they will be to many readers) – what is striking and important about his work is that he buttresses these arguments about the rather dry topic of copyright law with well-chosen and interesting examples.

He suggests that copyright owners are no more entitled to use digital right management to hold back file sharing than “the Causbys had to hold back flight”:http://blogspace.com/freeculture/Introduction because property rights extend to the sky.

He points out that in the battle between the capabilities of new technology and law that would mis-regulate it, the common sense does not always win (citing the sad case of Edwin Howard Armstrong whose invention of FM radio was stifled by RCA in America).

And he slyly uses the example of “Disney’s own work”:http://blogspace.com/freeculture/Creators which was very often derived from or inspired by the work of others to suggest that it is wrong for corporations (like Disney) to prevent others from producing derivative works based on their own characters.

And that’s just what I’ve come across in the introduction and first chapter. Hopefully the accessibility and clear logic of this work will ensure it gets read more widely than just among us Internet policy wonks.

See my “earlier post”:https://blog.org/archives/cat_copyright.html#001080 for information about how to download or listen to the book – you may also wish to simply “buy it from Amazon”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1594200068/lessigorg-20?creative=125581&camp=2321&link_code=as1 or “read it online”:http://blogspace.com/freeculture/Main_Page in an annotatable wiki form.

18 February 2004

New Scientist “briefly describes”:http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99994663 research that compares lying behaviour on the phone, by email and in face to face communication. Turns out it’s not email – it’s the telephone where most lying occurs (at least in this experiment). Who would have thought? The researchers suggest a reason we don’t lie as much by email is that it leaves a trail and we can be called to account for it later.

11 February 2004

“Pablo J. Boczkowski”:http://sloancf.mit.edu/vpf/facstaff.cfm?ID=17351&ProfType=F&sortorder=name has produced a book that sounds interesting – “Digitizing the News: Innovation in Online Newspapers”:http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?sid=C429EE84-02E6-4F1A-A20D-B9B5BC908D9E&ttype=2&tid=10145 a summary of which is provided as part of an article in the Online Journalism Review. He suggests that (in the three news organizations he studied) the online version of the news was more open to the readers’ voices but also that online news was more influenced by advertisers and more focused on ‘micro-communities’ of interest. That said, his choice of organizations to study was at the cutting edge of online news practice at the time and indeed two out of the three projects he highlights – HoustonChronicle.com’s “Virtual Voyager”:http://www.chron.com/content/interactive/voyager/ and New Jersey Online’s “Community Connection”:http://www.nj.com/cc/groups/index.ssf seem to have been closed down.

I take a more pessimistic view – there does not appear to be much of a business model yet for rich interactive journalism and until one arrives nearly all online news (with some honourable exceptions) is likely to remain largely re-publishing of existing old-media product.

I look forward to the book however as it is time we had an academic’s-eye view of how the cultures of existing news organizations may be changed through greater online involvement (to the extent it exists).

29 January 2004

I have never understood why with all the advances there have been in browsers neither Mozilla nor IE has developed a proper database for managing bookmarks. If you have more than a few dozen bookmarks it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of them all. The “Keeping Found Things Found”:http://kftf.ischool.washington.edu/ project has discovered people can’t find sites they visited earlier but they seem to have developed a needlessly baroque way to deal with this problem. I have been using “Powermarks”:http://www.kaylon.com/ for several years and now have more than 5,000 bookmarks in a simple database which lets me get to any of them almost instantly. It may be the most useful software I have ever bought…

12 January 2004

Prof “Lessig”:http://www.lessig.org/ gave another barnstorming performance in a visit to a small, packed room full of LSE media and regulation students. I had heard much of his presentation before last year at a presentation he made in Oxford but there were some interesting new factoids in the latest version – notably:

* The average time a book remains in print is about one year.
* There are 100k titles “alive” in Amazon but 26m titles that have been printed and are available in the Library of Congress.
* Products from one part of a big corporation tend to get used in movies and other programmes made by that company not necessarily because of straightforward plugging but simply because the process of copyright clearance is easier with products from inside those corporations than outside.
* Before the 1976 copyright act in the US, copyright holders had to re-assert their copyright periodically. Only 10-20% of them did so.
* Whoever managed the ebook distribution of his book “The Future of Ideas”:http://the-future-of-ideas.com/ set the DRM flag in Acrobat not to allow anyone to copy text from, print or even have the book read aloud. Talk about an own goal!

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.

7 October 2003

“A new survey”:http://users.ox.ac.uk/~oxis/index.html by the “Oxford Internet Institute”:http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/ has provided some invaluable detail about the exact nature of the digital divide. I find the conclusions drawn in media reports as interesting as the data itself. The Guardian’s headline and opening paragraphs: Digitally divided by choice concentrate on the survey’s discovery that only 14 percent (mis-reported as four percent) of the UK population doesn’t have Internet access themselves and doesn’t at least know someone who could send an email for them.

It’s true that many of those who are not online themselves could get access at local libraries or ‘borrow’ Internet access from a friend, but without much first-hand experience of Internet access they are unlikely to understand what it could do for them.

The BBC: “Net ‘worth little to many Brits'”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3121950.stm gets more to the heart of the matter, though its headline is misleading – it should say something more like, ‘Net perceived as unimportant by many Brits’.

I think Tom Steinberg gets it exactly right when he “suggests”:http://partnerships.typepad.com/civic/2003/09/its_about_the_v.html that if 96% of Internet non-users don’t feel they are missing anything it is important that government and civil society organizations start giving them good reasons to get interested. I would add that the way the Internet is presented when it is discussed is also at fault. The Government depicts it as a way to learn and get employed, commercial organizations depict it as a place to shop and the news often depicts it as full of oddballs and paedophiles. There isn’t much room for discussion of how to use it to meet people (other than sexual partners), express yourself creatively or to organize politically.

It is worth noting that the questionnaire options for perceived disadvantages of lack of Internet access appear to be limited to: ‘could do job better [if I was online]’, ‘trouble being contacted’ and ‘disadvantaged at work’. Nothing about learning, information gathering or even saving money let alone political organizing as possible things someone might have missed out on.

The information available via the OII and news reports remains sketchy – the full results are due to be publicised and discussed “in Oxford on 22nd October”:http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/events.shtml

Thanks to “Techdirt”:http://techdirt.com/articles/20030918/0047201.shtml for the link

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