Joho the Blog » 2008 » November

November 25, 2008

Googling for tanks in China

Here’s an odd thing.

I was sure that when Google China first started cleansing its results, a search for “tiananmen” at Google Images did not return the famous photo of the man standing in front of the line of tanks, or other photos of the Tiananmen demonstrations.

Today it does.

Even odder, I was talking with Lokman Tsui of the Berkman Center about this, and he discovered that if you search for “tiananmen” using the Chinese characters (天安门), you don’t get back photos of the demonstrations but sanitized, post-card-ish touristy photos.

On purpose? Fluke? A crack in the structure of control?

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[berkman] Antony Loewenstein on blogging in rerpressive regimes

Antony Loewenstein is giving a Berkman Center lunchtime talk on “The Blogging Revolution: Going Online in Repressive Regimes.” He begins by reading a short paper. [Note: I'm live-blogging. Getting it wrong, Missing stuff. And this comes out far choppier than the actual discussion.]

In the paper he says that bloggers are at risk of being silenced in repressive regimes In Antony’s home, Australia, the PM is proposing filtering child porn and “excessively violent” sites. There has also been talk of blocking euthanasia and pro-anorexia sites. Wha next? Block Hamas sites? (Antony does not consider Hamas to be a terrorist group.) Despite all this, Australia isn’t one of the more repressive regimes when it comes to the Net. Antony’s book looks at bloggers’ attitudes toward their governments. E,.g., bloggers in the Middle East generally are angry at their governments for repressing the rise of Islamic government. There is a widespread desire to make incremental change without government involvement. Bloggers everywhere are unpacking issues governments would rather hide from view. “Blogging is not in itself revolutionary but the act of expressing yourself online can be.” Many of the bloggers he met with were aware of their international audience and hoped that would bring pressure on their regimes. They are also angry at global companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google in enabling the restrictions on the Net. “International laws and norms must be applied.” We need ethical labeling on media, as we have Fair Trade labels. And it’s not just other countries that we need to worry about it. Sen. Lieberman pressured YouTube to remove videos from supposedly Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. Blogging lets people write and publish without a Western filter.”

Q: [ethanz] In your book, you look at how the rest of the world gets filtered by the Western media. You say that the blogosphere lets people see the world unfiltered. But, people aren’t queueing up to read international blogs. There isn’t enough demand for it. What’s an ideal relationship among the people raising their voices — probably not in English — and the people around the world who could change policy and structure?
A: The bloggers I met with have very popular sites within their own country. Part of my job as a journalist is to talk with other journalists and tell them they ought to be paying more attention to these voices. It doesn’t mean that they will, but it’s likely these people will have an effect. During the Olympics, over Tibet, bloggers on both sides were shouting across each other. For one thing, language is a key problem. On the positive side, newspapers ran what Arab bloggers thought about the election.
Q: [ethanz] But wouldn’t the old man-on-the-street interviews be more representative than a handful of bloggers?
A: We need both. You, Ethan, may be underestimating the effect bloggers are having on journalists.

Q: [me] Do you have examples of blogging affecting repression?
A: Egypt. Bloggers filmed torture and rape. It was distributed via mobiles. Eventually the government was forced to respond. Police torture still goes on, but now people talk about it. Also, in Iran there are far more discussions of issues such as women’s rights, religious affiliations, the Iraq War. I don’t want to overplay that, but that is going on.

Q: The effect of Al Jazeera?
A: Major. Satellite is having more effect in many ways than the Net. It reaches more people.

Q: Yes, Western media ultimately turns everything into what’s about “us.” Western media define Arabs in light of the geopolitical struggle. The press reduces my identity to whether I’m pro or against Hamas. What is a positive message we can get out about working the system to get them to report on the real cases happening on the ground?
A: The Western media sense is that the Israelis are good and the Arabs are bad. Almost all Western journalists are based in Israel. That biases them. Not every story about the Middle East has to be focused through the terrorism prism.

Q: [jillian] What about Syria? Why didn’t you write more about that?
A: I don’t the Syrian blogosphere as having as much impact on that country as the Iranian and Egyptian blogosphere does on those countries.

Q: I was born in Poland and saw the Solidarity movement go from tiny to 1/3 of the population supporting it, in just a couple of months. It was so successful not because the NY Times supported it (which it did). I haven’t seen similar movements come about through the Net or cell phones. Why is it that even though we have all of this beautiful technology, we haven’t seen anything like Solidarity happening?
A: Blogging communities generally don’t have massive mainstream support. Many of the bloggers are not dissidents. E.g., Iranian bloggers are frequently pro-regime. Blogging plays one role among many. Bloggers on their own won’t bring down a regime. Frequently the reforms are old school. It’s not easier to get people on the streets to protest. No one I spoke to is looking for a violent revolution.

My understanding is that with the advent of the Net in Islamic states, people are finding new channels to discuss their questions about Islam, instead of going to the religious authorities or your family. This is eroding the authority of traditional religious authorities. Have bloggers in Islamic states mentioned this to you?
A: Even those who criticize the state still want an Islamic state.

You say a great deal of speech comes out of the Moslem Brotherhood that represents the people better than the Egyptian government does. What should those bloggers be doing to have a bigger influence nationally and internationally?
A: There’s a struggle within the Brotherhood between moderates and hard-liners. The old guard doesn’t like showing these internal struggles. It’s not about the Brotherhood changing their message to make the West happy. To bring about greater engagement means putting a Western-friendly face on.

[From the IRC comes a strong recommendation for this post by Roland Soong about Chinese blogging.]

Q: Technology backbones?
A: Facebook and Twitter are being localized. YouTube.

Q: Should YouTube block particular videos that offend, say, the Thais. Or should they just pull out of Thailand? If they block the particulars, is that collusion?
A: I think it’s inappropriate to do this without transparency. I’d rather have them block a few sites than block all of them, but what happens next?

[I had to leave at this point ...] [Tags: ]

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Radio Berkman: Searching for Argentinian celebrities, and Sir Craig of the List

We’re rebooting Radio Berkman, the Berkman Center’s podcast series. First up is an interview with Chris Saghoian about why you get zero hits on some celebrities when you search using Argentina’s Google or Yahoo. There’s also a two-question interview with Craig Newmark about the effect of “nerd culture.”

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November 24, 2008

US’s Somali war gets some MSM attention

The Chicago Tribune actually has an article about the war we’ve been waging — and losing — in Somalia.

By the way, it’s interesting to put that article, which I think is quite good, next to Ethan Zuckerman’s recent post about Somali pirates. Who do you think is the more interesting, more knowledgeable commentator?

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Chinese won’t let blogger travel

Rebecca MacKinnon reports that the Chinese government has refused to let citizen journalist blogger Zhou Shuguang (known as Zola) travel outside the country. This is not the first time he’s faced the Chinese authorities. This time, he twittered it as it was happening.

Rebecca posts: “I just communicated with Zola online. I asked him how he’s feeling – he said he’s tired but he feels ok, isn’t stressed.” She is concerned, however, as we all should be.

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November 23, 2008

SNL: Review of Links

Saturday Night Live, which I have been watching since its first Saturday night, is the finest Tivo show around: Unwatchable live, but often excellent if watched with a fast forward button. And now that SNL is posting many of its segments online, I thought I’d save you those precious fast-forward moments by reviewing the links, in best-first order:

Clear-Rite ad. Loved it. Might have loved it more if they’d ended it before Tim’s entrance, but I’m not sure. Definitely will be on the Best of Kristin Wiig reel.

Country James Bond. Tim McGraw is excellent in this fairly funny, wandering sketch.

Keith Morrison. Funny, and would have been funnier if I’d known this was an imitation of a real guy.

Blizzard Man. Unfunny recurring character, but this one was slightly chucklish. T-Pain and Ludacris were good in it.

Turkeys. Good example of sketches that give SNL a bad name. Not funny.

Bill Clinton. Bill is a horndog. Wow, is this tired, lazy and not funny. Embarrassingly bad.

NBC is also providing an address by Rahm Emanuel as a Web extra. Predictable but slightly funny. I’d put it a giant step above Turkeys in the list.

So, now I’ve saved you 83 minutes of your precious time. You’re welcome. [Tags: ]

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Google SeachWiki’s surprising missteps

If you log into your Google account when searching (you can tell if you’re logged in by seeing if it puts your login name at the top of the page), Google has enhanced its results page with new features. The features are slightly useful (and largely mirror Wikia Search), but they also commit two rookie mistakes. Surprising, coming from Google.

The enhancements let you move a particular result to the top of the rankings, so that next time you search for that term, you’ll get that result first; doing so does not affect the results for anyone else (although Google isn’t ruling out that possibility). You can also demote, add or remove a result from the list the next time you do that search, or write a public comment. These are features some of us may find sometimes useful.

So, what’s my beef? (What are my beeeves?)

First, opting us in is obnoxious enough, but not giving us a way to opt out is unsupportable. Where’s the big “No thanks” button? (If you put your “I heart hackers” t-shirt on, you can use GreaseMonkey to turn SearchWiki off.)

Second, the results page shows you the nicknames of other users who have voted the page up. So, now the whole world will see that “dweinberger” not only searched for “Angelina Jolie” but thumbs-upped the page of closeups of her tattoos? Guess who just changed his nickname to something less identifiable! This is a feature without value — the list of names isn’t clickable or complete or tell you how many people voted it up — unless you recognize someone’s nickname, in which case it has negative value.

So, here’s a new question for Jeff Jarvis: Not “What would Google do?” but “What was Google thinking?” [Tags: ]

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November 22, 2008

Eve Online and the future of e-democracy

An article in PC Gamer is titled: “Birth of a Nation: Does Eve Online’s Budding Democracy Represent the First Virtual Sovereign State?” Well, no, because the Council of Stellar Management that as elected by gamers does not have any real authority. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating case of governance…and hard to generalize from. That is, it’s a great example, but I’m not sure of what.

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Obama in the West Wing

Watching the YouTube of Obama’s weekly talk, in which he promises a huge stimulus package focused on rebuilding our schools, fixing our infrastructure, and investing in alternative energies, I had a sense of emotional deja vu … I had had that feeling before. It’s just so rational and obvious that we should invest in those three areas, since they all build a sustainable economic future. I knew I’d heard some president say things as straightforwardly right as that.

Yep, I was having a Jed Bartlett moment. And many more to come, I hope.

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Our strange new home

I’ve published a new issue of my free newsletter

Our strange new home: A talk to the people in the Chinese government designing ways to use the Net to deliver government services.

Has the Internet been saved?: Obama’s appointments to head the FCC transition team fill me with joy.

The main article is the text of a talk I gave a few weeks ago in Beijing at a one-day seminar/conference for the people in the Chinese government who are putting together sites — portals, usually — to provide government services. These were, I was told, the government people most excited about the opportunities brought by an open Internet. I gave the closing keynote. The previous speakers, from China, S. Korea and Denmark, had expanded the audience’s practical imaginations. I would’ve if I could’ve. Instead, I tried to resolve the seeming contradiction and doubtless cross-cultural meaninglessness that the Internet is weird and the Internet feels homey. It occurred to me afterward that that is the theme of Small Pieces Loosely Joined.

You can read it here.

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