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January 25, 2010

How to use the Web to teach: An example

Want to see one way to use the Web to teach? Berkman‘s Jonathan Zittrain and Stanford Law’s Elizabeth Stark are teaching a course called Difficult Problems in Cyberlaw. It looks like they have students creating wiki pages for the various topics being discussed. The one on “The Future of Wikipedia” is a terrific resource for exploring the issues Wikipedia is facing.

Among the many things I like about this approach: It implicitly makes the process of learning — which we have traditionally taken as an inward process — a social, outbound process. By learning this way. we are not only enriching ourselves, but enriching our world.

My only criticism: I wish the pages had prominent pointers to a main page that explains that the pages are part of a course.

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StopBadware spins out of the Berkman Center

Congratulations to StopBadWare, a non-profit that today has spun out of the Berkman Center. StopBadware maintains a database of malware sites from lists contributed by Google and Sunbelt Software, analyzes the data, provides some end-user services, advocates for sensible policies to minimize badware, and resolves disputes about particular listed sites. It is supported primarily by Google, PayPal, and Mozilla.

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January 24, 2010

Freedom to Connect

On an etymological note, I believe there’s good reason to believe that the phrase “freedom to connect” that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used in her speech on Internet Freedom ultimately came from David Isenberg. It might, of course, simply be an independent coinage, but David has run a conference by that name for several years, and lots of people now connected to the Obama administration either have attended, or know David or people who have attended. For example, in 2008, Alec Ross was on a panel. Alec is the State Department’s Senior Advisor for Innovation and reports to Sect’y Clinton. I would imagine that Alec was involved in Sect’y Clinton’s Internet Freedom event and the drafting of the speech.

With my usual prescience, I gave a talk at one of the Freedom to Connect conferences saying that “right to connect” would be a better phrase because rights imply corresponding duties. That is, if we have the freedom to connect, then the government can’t stop us. But, if we have the right to connect, then the government has a duty to help us connect, by (for example) making sure we all have access to the Internet. As it turns out, David’s sense of the workable phrase — the one that would catch on — was miles ahead of mine.

Meanwhile, in support of my resolution to be an even bigger a-hole, here’s a link to an interview immediately after Hillary Clinton’s speech, in which I manage to confuse FDR’s Four Freedom’s with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and possibly with the Four Teletubbies. (Also, for the record, the video labels me as a Harvard Professor. I’m not. I’m a “senior researcher” at the Berkman Center; being a professor is a much bigger deal. And while I’m speaking for the record, I am not a philosopher either. That, too, is a far bigger deal than the sort of writing I do.)

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January 23, 2010

Chris DiBona and Chris Messina on Hillary Clinton’s Internet Freedom Address

I interviewed these two Googly Chrisses at Secretary Clinton’s address. The video is a little over 9 mins, but it’s IMPORTANT TO NOTE that there is a crucial disclaimer 53 seconds in…

Most of the discussion is about the problem of local belief systems and the desire to enforce some global values.

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One world government (data portal)

The Guardian has gone meta-meta and produced a single portal for exploring the data the world’s governments are dumping into the public sphere. (Thans, Doc!)


January 22, 2010

How to eat a carrot

Our son Nathan demonstrates the proper way to eat a carrot:


Berkman Buzz

The Berkman Buzz this week:

* Peter Suber takes stock of open access in 2009:

* John Palfrey reports from a reader privacy event:

* danah boyd argues that privacy is still very much alive:

* Fernando Bermejo wonders aloud about flash cookies:

* Future of the Internet puts out a HIT about worker satisfaction:

* Difficult Problems in Cyberlaw looks for a fight:

* CMLP tries not to cut itself on the First Amendment:

* Doc Searls connects the dots of the Content-o-net:

* OpenNet Initiative ballparks the number of Internet users being filtered around the world:

* Weekly Global Voices: “More websites banned in Myanmar. Global Voices banned too”

* David Weinberger reacts to Hillary Clinton’s Internet speech…

* …and Ethan Zuckerman weighs in as well:

* Internet & Democracy reads that the Kremlin tells governors to blog:

* A year ago in the Buzz: “Inauguration Day Online”

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January 21, 2010

Hillary Clinton’s Internet policy speech

First, my overall reaction to Hillary Clinton’s speech: It’s thrilling that a Secretary of State would claim “freedom to connect” as a basic human right. That’s a very big stake in the ground. Likewise, it’s sort of amazing that the State Department is funding the development of tools to help users circumvent government restrictions on access. On the negative side, it’s distressing (but not surprising) that the Secretary of State should come out against anonymity so we can track down copyright infringers. Of course, in response to a question she said that we have to strike a balance so that the anonymity of dissenters is protected even as the anonymity of file sharers is betrayed. I just don’t know how you do that. [THE NEXT DAY: I fixed a couple of typos in that paragraph.]

What follows are the notes I took during the presentation itself. They are, as always, rough livebloggage. Here’s a transcript of her prepared remarks.

I’m at the Newseum where Hillary Clinton is about to give a speech about Internet freedom. The venue is filled: an auditorium that seats a few hundred. HRC enters. (Joe Lieberman is smiling in the front row, damn his eyes.)

Her topic: How freedom applies to the Net. She thanks Richard Lugar and Joe “The Weasel” Lieberman for sponsoring some act that promotes Internet freedom. [I don't know what she's referring to, but somehow I bet I don't like it.] She takes a moment to note the gravity of the situation in Haiti. Communications networks have played a crucial role in our relief efforts, she says. The State Dept. immediately set up the “text Haiti” program that has raised $25M.

The Internet is forming a new “nervous system,” she says. Information has never been more free, she says. The U.S. believes that open access to info enables citizens to hold their gov’ts accountability, increase innovation, etc. But the same tools are used to work against freedoms. The same networks that organize people for freedom also enable Al Qaeda to spew hatred, she says. The same tech can be used to suppress dissent. Chinese, Tunisia and Uzbekistan have stepped up their assault on Internet freedom, she says. We stand for a single Internet, open to all. ["Single Internet" is code for "Boo, China!" but should also be code for "Yay Net Neutrality!"] This is based on our belief in free speech. We need to synchronize our technological progress with our principles.

The users of the Net ought to be assured certain basic freedoms:

Freedom of expression. She hearkens back to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Net is this generation’s icon. Instead of a wall, it stands for connection. Some countries [=China] have expunged search results and have imprisoned people for non-violent expressions of beliefs. This violates the Declaration of Human Rights. Viral videos and blog posts are the samizdat of our day. E.g., Iran.

Then she exempts terrorist beliefs. And, in the next sentence, exempts those transmitting “stolen intellectual property.” And, she says, we must not allow anonymity to protect them. [What the what??]

HRC says she likes freedom of worship and the Net ought not to be censored on those grounds.

The Net can be used to advanced struggling economies. The Net and mobile phones can do for economic growth what the Green Rev did for agriculture. “Information networks have become a great leveler.” We should use them to lift people out of poverty.

But: Bad people use the Net for bad purposes. Terrorists, sexual predators, totalitarian gov’ts, child porn, slave trade. We need our networks to be secure, especially from evil organizations. We need more tools to allow law enforcement agencies to cooperate across boundaries. “Countries or individuals that engage in cyberattacks” should face consequences. We need to protect the “cyber information commons.” [Cool phrase to hear a Sect'y of State utter]

We should all have a freedom to a connect: To connect to the Internet, Web sites, or one another. It is like the freedom to assemble.

We can use the Net to help ensure Net freedoms.

How to apply this in practice:

The U.S. is ready to spend what we need to in order to advance these freedoms.

We need 21st Century statecraft, as they say at the State Dept.

We’re including Net freedom in what we’re proposing to the UN Human Rights Council.

We are funding groups to make sure that Net tools get to people who need them to so they can be used in rights-challenged countries. We are committed to providing tools and training to people in countries where the Net is under political censorship. Announcement: Partnerships to provide tools to empower citizens. Also, an innovation contest. She talks about a State group that has been working on this, including in Mexico and Pakistan.

“Information freedom” is not just good policy, but it’s a universal value and good for business.

She calls on China to look into the violations that caused Google to threaten to withdraw. Countries that censor risk “walling themselves off” from progreess.

Will we live with one Internet, one body of knowledge, one community? Or will what you see depend on what your censors let you? Asymmetric access to info leads to global instability.

Consumers want to rely that their Internet providers are giving them open, uncensored access. Those who lose that confidence will lose customers. [Unless there are monopolies.] We need to be confident that what we do on the NEt won’t be used against us. [Hence we need anonymity.] We are reinvigorating the Internet Freedom Task Force. The private sector has a shared responsibility to safeguard Internet freedom.

HRC also likes the Global Network Initiative, a consortium that establishes mechanisms sfor transparency and accountability. The State Dept. is having a conference next month.

Q: But we need anonymity to enable free speech in repressive regimes.
A: We have to strike a balance.

Q: But business is in it for the money.
A: Open Net is in the long term interest of business.

A: If a gov’t disaagrees with what a blogger is saying, get into the discussion.

A: We are expanding our outreach to Muslim youth.

[Now there's a panel discussion, but I'm not going to live blog it.]


January 20, 2010

Social media hoaxes and media contests

Ethan Zuckerman has yet another fabulous post, this one about how false reports about a supposedly impending earthquake in Ghana swept through social media. Fascinating and informative. As always.

The Knight Foundation, which runs its own contest to grant awards for innovation in media, has published a roundup report and analysis of such competitions.


January 19, 2010

[berkman] Tarleton Gillespie: The Politics of Online Media Platforms

Tarleton Gillespie of Cornell is giving a Berkman lunchtime talk on the politics of online media. He’s been interested in how we are shaping cultural discourse through the confluence of tech, policy, economics, etc. Today he wants to look at how social platforms are shaping social discourse.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He begins with YouTube’s announcement in Dec. 2008 that they’re going to become more conservative in blocking offensive videos: removing some, moving some behind an age firewall, and algorithmically demoting some so they won’t appear on the most popular lists. This combines traditional tactics with newfangled technical management of where things appear. We don’t really have a language for how these sorts of innovations work.

He asks: How do we take the tradition of asking questions about how commercial providers shape the public discourse … with the basis that these providers, especially the most prominent ones, are playing a role in determining what ends up online, viewed and possible? How do we apply this to new media? Three differences in how online media work: 1. Emphasis on user-generated content. 2. Gatekeeping or comprehensiveness? E.g., Google wants comprehensiveness for Google Books. That changes why they would include or exclude. 3. They cater “to active niche communities, trying to produce a coherent site, consistent brand, and commodifiable audience.”

“How do these sites promise to be everything and not everything at the same time?” How have they cultivated the notion that they provide everything in a neutral manner? How do they intervene in what they provide? “What obligations are we willing to impose, to protect free speech and ensure a healthy public discourse?”

What about the promises they make that makes them appear neutral? How do they articulate their services and sell themselves to the various stakeholders, setting the terms for how they’re judged? Part of the answer: They use the term “platform.” “The role this term plays is indicative of the type of positioning a youtube, facebook or flickr would like to establish.” These terms are carefully chosen and are carefully massaged. Why has this term fit so comfortable in these sites’ characterizations and why have we accepted it? E.g., before being bought by Google, Youtube referred to itself as a service and a community. Afterward, it became a “platform.” The term draws on the computational meme: an infrastructure on which tools can be built. Marc Andreesen disagrees because you can’t build tools for it. [This is the original geeky meaning, but its meaning has shifted, IMO - dw] It also has a political meaning. And architectural. All these meanings help the term resonate. There are a series of connotations that are powerful in this tool: An open space, egalitarian, wide, limitless, facilitating something of value.

The term “platform” manages the conflicts among stakeholders for youtube. For users, it’s a platform from which to be heard. For advertisers, it’s a platform of opportunity. For media partners, it’s a distribution platform. For lawmakers, it’s a fragile, valuable platform that enables free speech. When they are talking about liability, they are merely a platform. Structurally, “platform” is not unlike “conduit.” [Hmm. I think that for advertisers, YT is a platform in that it's an open space where millions of users come together. - dw]

So, how do you begin to find a language for the technique and justifications online media make about what belongs on their site and what doesn’t. Facebook, youtube, and flickr adopt different strategies. Youtube maintains that it doesn’t look at content proactively but only when their users flag it. But they do look for spam and are obliged to look for child porn [actually, I think they are not required to proactively search out child porn — dw]. Youtube has a figure 8 model of community governance: Users flag content. Users can comment on the guidelines. Users can game the system, but Youtube can decide which flags to ignore. Users can complain about being flagged. So, while Youtube positions itself as non-interventionist, it actually isn’t. It says it’s defending the community according to the community’s norms, but those norms have been crafted by YT in accordance with its legal and economic interests.

YT’s algorithmic demotion of videos manages their front page. They don’t want it to look like a soft core porn site; those videos are there, but it’s not their image. Flickr does this carefully as well. Their front page tells you that this is a site for landscape photos, and birds, and arty shots. Amazon’s best seller list excludes “adult” literature. Not to mention (he says) Amazon’s removing from the Kindle a copy of 1984 that was posted in violation of copyright; what seems like ours isn’t really.

[I'm doing a terrible job capturing the questions. Basically, I just couldn't hear the first couple. Sorry!]

Q: [wendy] Platforms vs. intermediaries. “The lawyers tend to talk about intermediary liability or immunity, whereas economists talk more about platforms.”
A: Intermediaries such as ISPs have a different set of protections. YouTube wants the protections but doesn’t fit neatly into that definition. Viacom calls YTY a “distributor.”

Q: Couldn’t these platforms get out of the dilemma by providing curated and uncurated versions?
A: Flickr comes closer to that. It tries to have it all but not be visible about having it all. They have a “Porn is in the back” approach.

[me] We’re in a confusing time. We’ve invented new things that don’t fit the old vocabulary perfectly. What should we do about the lack of a vocab. Invent a new one? Be vigilant about understand how people use terms?
A: All vocabularies are strategic. We should unpack the terms and recognize that they’re doing work, and that the connotations matter. E.g., issues of liability depends on whether we see them as intermediaries or distributors. Is it about imposing a new vocab? Or maintaining vigilance? I’m torn about the impulses in those directions.

Q: We had a system that had user ratings. We a “text jockey” looking at msgs 24/7. We call them global ratings vs. contextual ratings. It’s gotten very very complex. E.g., cleavage photos have to have a head included.

Q: [jodi] How has the near real time feedback influenced accountability/exposure of algorithms and decisions? The Twitter/#amazonfail incident, for instance. Amazon was faced with a decision to respond or not, and then further faced with a decision of what to do about the allegation.
A: The Amazon FAIL revealed what was going on all along. Now the reaction can be faster, is more public.

[Missed some more questions because my hearing is getting worse.]

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