Joho the BlogSeptember 2008 - Page 3 of 8 - Joho the Blog

September 24, 2008

Two press conferences

Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times has blogged transcripts of press conferences given by the two candidates yesterday:

Barack Obama

John McCain

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Information breeds control

A stray and obvious thought?

If you look at the issue of privacy at social networking sites in terms of information, as outside observers such as parents and governments frequently do, you come up with proposals to enable users to control their information.

But sites like Facebook aren’t about information. They’re about self, others, and the connections among them. Likewise Flickr isn’t about info; it’s about sharing photos.

If the issue gets phrased in terms of info, then the field tilts towards assuming privacy as the good and publicness as the threat, with control over info as the bulwark. But, within the participant’s frame, publicness is taken as the good and privacy as fear-based or selfish.

This is a case where an information-based view misses the phenomenon and can lead to bad policy decisions.

Also, our kids will think we’re dorks.

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Amazing sidewalk art

Julian Beever makes incredible sidewalk art trompe-l’Å“il that photographs in 2-D amazingly well.

Beever sidewalk painting

And that’s not even the most impressive!

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Who was saved in Sodom and Gomorrah?

My wife just blew my mind. I thought I knew the basics of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. I’ve always cottoned to it because you have to like a religion in which people get to argue with their god. But I thought it was obvious that Abraham was arguing to save the innocent.

Nope. My wife, who is a scholar about these things (although she denies it), says that on the contrary, the traditional Jewish commentators take it for granted that G-d will save the innocent. And, indeed, He brings Lot out, even though Lot is only semi-innocent. In fact, Abraham is arguing that the presence of the innocent ought to save the guilty.

Why would having ten righteous people in a city be reason enough to save the guilty, given that either way, the innocent were going to be saved? That’s where the Jewish discussion of this passage begins. And maybe it’s where everyone’s discussion begins. But not me. I had it quite backwards.

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September 23, 2008

[berkman] Born Digital

John Palfrey and Urs Gasser are giving a talk to launch their new book, Born Digital, to be followed by a party . [I’m live blogging, getting things wrong, omitting important points, losing track, not spell checking…]

Urs begins by talking about the questions they’ve been asked as they’ve given interviews about the book. “Why did you write this book?” 1. “We’re researchers.” They’re interested in how the Internet is making structural changes that affect our lives. Those changes are most visible in the digital natives (people born after 1980 or so and have the skills to use digital tech). 2. “We’re teachers.” 3. “We’re parents.”

They also get asked, “Why did you write a book?” It aims to bridge a gap between those who are more or less familiar with digital tech.

They get asked how long it took to write the book, and what use they made of digital technologies. It took about 3.5 years to do the research for the book. The actual writing took about a year. Of course they did much of the research online. They used a wiki to assemble research. They used BaseCamp to share drafts. They opened drafts up to comments. “Writing a book in this digital age doesn’t have a clear starting point and may not have a clear end. It is the beginning of a conversation.”

JP talks about the argument of the book. It’s a “myth busting” book, he says. And it aims to show some of the great things digital natives are doing. The meta-myth is that digital natives is not a generation; it’s a population. For one thing, only a billion people are on the Net.

For DNs, what they write and post makes their multiple identities. They don’t distinguish between their digital and offline identities. They multi-task. They presume that the media they interact with is in a malleable, digital form. They download music using the filesharing services; if they download from iTunes, it’s because someone gave them a gift card. They create media and share it. (We should be teaching young people to work in teams, he says.) E.g., the Digital Natives logo came from a 15 yr old boy in England, via a contest. He points to couchsurfing as an example.

The issues people have about DNs: (1) Security. That’s the first thing parents worry about. But it is a myth that children are more in danger than they were ten years ago. There are fewer abductions than ten years ago, for example.

(2) Privacy: People do share a lot of info about themselves. And that is a concern. We are building up lots of information. No one has yet lived through a lifespan online, so we don’t know exactly what it will be like to have everything from your prenatal sonogram to your obituary available online. JP shows a video from a 17 yr old based on the privacy chapter in the book.

(3) Intellectual property: DNs tend not to have a good idea of what they are allowed do with what they’ve downloaded. He shows part 2 of “The Ballad of Zack McCune“.

(4) Information overload.

JP ends with a “positive outlook.” We should acknowledge the real problems, but also recognize the creativity, the engagement in democracy, the available knowledge and info…

JP ends by saying that the book is of course obsolete the moment it was published. So, join the continuing conversation. E.g.join the Digital Natives Facebook group or go to

Q: Is the book on Kindle? Online for free?
A: It is on Kindle. We didn’t have the marketing power to make it available for free. Parts are available for free.

Q: It’s a great book, but you got one thing wrong: Your call for a rollback of CDA Section 230. [That protects hosts from liability]
A: 230 plays a critical roll. We don’t want a rollback. But social networks ought to have the same level under tort liability. If a newspaper publishes a discriminatory housing ad, it’s liable. Craigslist ought to be similarly liable.
Q: But, how can YouTube carry all those videos and be liable for every one of them? And if Google can afford to do it, how can a small competitor?
A: I don’t think YouTube should be liable. I’m saying that related to kids’ safety, there shouldn’t be a difference between online and offline.
Q: But for startups, that’s death.
A: In Switzerland, you have to ask what would be reasonable steps taken by a provider. It’s hard to write it down in law, but it’d be wrong entirely to ignore it. We have to find a compromise.
A: What;’s the offline analogy to Facebook or MySpace? Day care? But there there’s an expectation of monitoring. And Craigslist isn’t publishing anything; it’s providing a forum for others to publish.
Q: The closest legal analogies are shopping malls where you can be a pamphleteer or someone owns it and can kick you out. The analogy is to public spaces, not to publishing. At Craigslist, a take-down system would work, rather than prohibiting the initial posting.

Q: As teachers, have you observed the effects of the digital experience on the way people think, write, or formulate arguments.
A: Each generation thinks things were better when they were younger. The way arguments are structured has changed. They tend to join bits of arguments together, sometimes in quite creative ways, rather going in strict serial order.
A: One of the key myths we were trying work through is whether this is a dumber generation (to cite the title of a recent book). Is it just different or is it worse? E.g., they don’t open a newspaper and read it cover to cover. They browse and sometimes do deep dives. As teachers, we have to acknowledge there are new ways to learn and think, but we also have to think about how to the new ways well. [not sure I got that last point right.] [Tags: ]

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Crowd sourcing radio segments

The Brian Lehrer Show, on the nation’s largest public radio station, WNYC, is asking listeners to use a set of wiki pages to help produce six segments about the candidates’ positions on some of the less-hyped issues in the presidential election. The first issue to air will be the Internet and Broadcast Regulation. It will be on this Friday, 10-12 (EDT).

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Public comment on bail-out bills

PublicMarkUp lets you — yes, you — comment on the Paulson and Dodd proposals…

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Mettadatta fer dumbies

From TechPresident:

Barek Maccane for Prezidunt: Here’s a bit of silliness. Like any other perfectly normal person, I happened to be skimming the source code for early this morning. There, I discovered the variants on the candidate’s name that programmers helpfully included in the site’s keyword meta tags in a bid to draw in sloppy spelling searchers: “John McKaine, John MacCane, Jon McCain,” and “John MacCaine.” Team Obama is also prepared for fat-fingered Googlers, with meta tags for “Barack, Barck,” and “Barek.” Thankes. Veree helpfil.

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September 22, 2008

One Web Day at Berkman continues: An amazingly cool interface

The Berkman Center has today launched an incredible user interface into the [email protected] conference. Put together by Bestiario, a group that has done some amazing work — you’ve got to see their home page! — this swirling pixellated cloud of info lets you dive into multiple relationships to browse by topic, person, tag, etc. The nodes that go swirling by display info as appropriate: a scrolling Twitter tweet, live video, etc. Your mind…is it blown yet?

Zack McCune, one of the Berkman’s Super Summer Interns, worked with Bestiario to put this together. Zack describes the process here. It took a lot of work by Zack and by Bestiario. Thank you!

Screen capture of lovely graphical ui by Bestiario

It’s all part of the Berkman Center’s One Web Day celebration.

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The Internet Lexicon

In honor of One Web Day, we’ve launched The Internet Lexicon, a blatant ripoff of the immensely clever Philosophical Lexicon. It’s a wiki-based list of Webby people whose names are treated as if they were definable words. For example:

stone, lisa: (n) An object used to break a hard substance. E.g., “I’d like to lease a stone to throw against that glass ceiling.”

kahle (brewster): A healthful leafy vegetable that improves memory.

boyd (danah): to provide an environment for floating new ideas. E.g., “Sociologists were boyd by the research showing the class differences between Facebook and MySpace.”

doctorow (cory): The hero of a popular Canadian science fiction show about a man who, paradoxically, becomes more visible by insisting on transparency. E.g., “After ‘Dr. Who’ is over, shall we watch the new episode of ‘Doctorow’? We can download it for free or pay for it!”

The lexicon is an unofficial project by some Berkman Fellows. It’s a wiki, so jump on in!

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