Joho the Blog[berkman] JZ on Herdict - Joho the Blog

[berkman] JZ on Herdict

Jonathan Zittrain is talking at a Berkman lunch, about Herdict. [Note: I’m liveblogging, making mistakes, missing stuf, go wrong in every which way.] Herdict wants to help create “an emegent sense of what’s going on with this network” especially as network blockages and filterings are happening. Herdict tries to enlist people at large to answer the question “What’s going on with the Net?”

In the first instance, the team picked terms that it thought a regime might find objectionable, logged in as if from that country, and saw which sites are blocked. They then asked anyone on the Net to contribute sites that might be blocked, which the team then checked. In the next instance, they used open proxies. Then they teamed up with the Open Net Initiative to rigorously test filtering in about 50 countries. The result was the book Access Denied.

But to scale, they created Herdict (the verdict of the herd). As you surf, the sheep logo changes color: Green means nothing is blocked, grey means some people are blocked from the site, red means people you know have reported that it’s inaccessible. When you can’t get to a site, you can create a report

The Herdict Web site ( you can see a live map of blockages. You can also filter by country. You can also go to a page internally referred to as “AmIBlockedOrNot” — officially, “The Reporter” — that will show you pages and ask if you can see them.

Herdict is collecting information not just about government filters, but wherever you expected to find info and did not. E.g., if YouTube has taken content down, Herdict wants to know about it.

Q: Can it be gamed?
A: Yes. But we can also manually inspect suspicious reports of sites.

Q: Privacy?
A: We record the IP addresses of reporters. We want to know where people are reporting from.

Q: The biggest risk is the people doing the blocking will block the sheep-server.
A: The only real countermeasure is to let people access it over SSL.
A: When the first state tries to block it — remember, it’s not a circumvention tool; it doesn’t show you anything you can’t otherwise can’t get too — I’ll take it as the first measure of success.

Q: Suppose someone uses Tor to reach Herdict to make reports …
A: We’ll see that it’s someone using Tor.

Q: [me] In the best cse, how does this information get used to make the world better?
A: We’ll “out” blockages. It might make it more difficult for regimes to block sites. It also provides data to academics and others. You can learn a lot about China from what it chooses to filter and how the filtering changes. Finally, success would be fostering a sense of participation on the Net…a sense of the Net as something that’s improved by your own contributions, you’re building a commons, you’re building a “digital nervous system,” to quote Bill Gates, for the Internet. Most blocking happens by IP address, but those change over time, which means your site may be blocked into China; this would enable a “title search” on IP addresses to see what sort of troubles it’s had.

Q: You could piggyback on Twitter…
A: Twitter might be one of the sites that get filtered early by a state worried about Web 2.0. But, you could even come up with a hash tag on Twitter. And it’d give you an independent database of reports…
A: There is already a herdict twitter account.
A: We’re excited about the possibility of including Herdict as a default add-in to existing channels.
Q: It’d be great if, when you’re blocked, you get an error msg that lets you report it directly to Herdict.

Q: Some users are very interested in blocked sites. How do you protect the privacy of those users? E.g., Someone in China coming in to your central server?
A: We’re hoping that it’s not just activists who will use it. We could have an addon that checks sites in the background, but we don’t want to ask anyone to visit a site that they haven’t given actual permission to visit. But the Chinese (or whomever) can watch who is visiting the site. But we don’t put up your IP address; it’s not visible on the site.

A: We wouldn’t be adverse to Herdict notification being offered when you register a domain name: Would you like to be alerted if your site is being blocked?

A: On the Web site, we obey your choice about Google safe sites about which sites to show you. We also heed Google’s list of malware sites.

Q: Does the color of the sheep reflect the page or the site?
A: The site.

Q: [charlie nesson] You’re describing a piece of sw that will hold up a mirror to all of the powerful entities who are filtering. Could you comment on the political dimensions? And, how are you going to launch it? And, do you have any line of defense when the blowback comes?
A: When we first came out with the studies in 2002 — first of China and then of Saudi Arabia — that made a pretty good splash. The Saudis actually had given us permission to be on their network for 2 wks. Think of things that seem inane that then become indispensible, e.g., twitter, blogs, wikipedia. The dream is that Herdict become like this. My dream is that that happens so that when the blowback comes, knowing where you can get to and you can’t and why is just part of the functioning Internet. As for the introduction, let’s talk…

Q: Maybe partner with sites where people are bored, like www.ask500people

Q: [me] The fact that you call it The Reported instead of AmIBlockedOrNot is not a good sign for PR. But how about on launch focusing on one particular region so we get good results quickly, rather than broad results>

Q: There are English-speaking communities in China…

Q: Maybe the sheep can tell me about my current ISP.
A: It’s not perfect data because we’re pulling it from a database of ISPs, but good idea.

Q: Isn’t that similar to what Google is developing?
A: Yes, but for every possible development. Google is building tools for checking Net neutrality. They’re more into the tools and details. We’re about can you get there.

Q: You should hitch up with Charlie Nesson…

Q: Maybe there’s a built-in audience for people who have desk jobs and do a lot of dilbert-esque surfing.
A: And slashdot.

Q: The more you can like it a game, the better. And it’s a great educational tool.
A: Do we want some persistence in reporting. Do you want an ID on Herdict? You could accrue points. We’ve put it on the backburner for now.

Q: Is there a function in the plugin to make it easy to ask friends whether a particular site is blocked.
A: We have a “test a website” feature. It’s our “view site report” function.
A: We’ve talked about building community
A: We have embed code so on your blog you can embed either the herdometer or the ticker.

Q: You should move as much of the infrastructure as you can onto, say, Amazon. [Tags: ]

We then celebrate Charlie Nesson’s 70th birthday…

Comments are closed.

Web Joho only

Comments (RSS).  RSS icon