Joho the Blog » 2010 » March

March 22, 2010

Yochai on the need for Net access competition

Yochai Benkler’s op-ed in the NY Times takes the Broadband Strategy Initiative to task for not requiring more competition among access providers. Well put.

I believe that Harold Feld would agree with Yochai, but he nevertheless has a somewhat sunnier spin on the report, perhaps because, as Harold explained elsewhere, he earlier on gave up on getting the plan that he actually wanted.

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March 21, 2010

Chinese netizen’s questions about and for Google

Rebecca MacKinnon posts about an open letter from some Chinese netizens who feel ignored in the struggle between China and Google. Says Rebecca:

In a nutshell, it expresses the view that Chinese Internet users have been left in the dark. While it’s assumed that the Chinese government would seek to keep its people in the dark – hence its censorship in the first place – they find it unfair that Google has not provided them with enough information to form educated and fact-based opinions about what’s going on.

The letter writers support “necessary censorship” so long as it follows clear rules, is done by relevant and named departments, and does not impede “The public’s right to study, scientific inquiry, communication, and commercial activity…”

Rebecca also says that she’s hearing “from many people that the ‘Google China incident’ – as many Chinese call it – has greatly heightened awareness among normally apolitical Chinese Internet users about the extent of Internet censorship in their country. It has sparked a lot of debate and soul searching about the extent to which their government is causing them to be isolated from the rest of the world.”

It would be very helpful and non-evil if Google were to address these questions.

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In praise of hospitality

The opposite of the screaming matches on the Net is not screaming back and is not staying quiet, but is hospitality.

This is a core term we Americans sometimes don’t pay enough attention to. Oh, we’re hospitable and sometimes spectacularly so, but other cultures hold the standard closer and higher. It’s one of the moral values that are not negative: Don’t steal, don’t lie, but do go out of your way to welcome those who are unlike you. Appreciate them. Enjoy talking with them. Understand that they find difficult the normal customs that you take for granted, so ease their way. (In fact, Loman Tsui, of the Berkman Center, is writing a dissertation that focuses on hospitality as a key virtue for news media.)

The story of Abraham and Sarah welcoming dusty strangers who turn out to be angels says it all. So I’ll stop now. It’s just that having been treated to kind hospitality today, it is on my mind. It is a virtue that makes the world better immediately.

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March 20, 2010

[2b2k] History of facts

I just stared reading Mary Poovey’s A History of the Modern Fact and I’m excited. I’m still in the intro, but she’s way deepening what I’ve been thinking and writing about facts. (If she uses Malthus as an example I’ll be pissed, since I thought I’d come up with the differences between the first and sixth editions of his book as an example of the birth of modern facts in the early 1800s. I’m afraid to look in the index. Yes, writing makes me petty.)

The intro makes it clear that she’s taking facts back to the invention of double entry bookkeeping and “mercantile accommodation.” Mercantile accommodation was, she says, the system of informal agreements that enabled merchants to accept each other’s bills of exchange. So, is she going to tie credentials to mercantile credits? Does our system of trust in authorities of knowledge come from our system of commercial trust? I’ll have to read more to find out if I’m just making this up because it’s 2AM and I’m in an airport.

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March 19, 2010

[2b2k] Chapter 2

I haven’t done much blogging about the “progress” of the book I’m writing, but I have been writing it. I think. That is, I haven’t re-read the chapter I just “finished,” so I may be unwriting it tomorrow. Also, there’s been a lot of other stuff going on.

The new chapter, version #1,017 of Chapter 2, is about networked expertise. This was originally what the entire book was going to be about, but the book’s scope expanded somewhat. (If you want to squint your eyes at the book, you could still see the whole thing as being about networked expertise.) In Chapt 2, I talk about hedgehogs vs. foxes and what happens when they both get networked. Each of them is in fact a way of dealing with the overflow of knowledge by narrowing the scope of their inquiry: hedgehogs dig a small area deeply and foxes scrape a large area superficially. Network them and the network has a different strategy for dealing with the overflow of knowledge.

I also spend some time on a history of expertise. Pretty straightfoward, but then everything is if you’re willing to oversimplify it enough.

Much of the chapter goes through a sort of taxonomy of networked expertise. This gave me a lot of trouble, because, as everyone knows, taxonomies force unrighteous decisions. So, I tied the classes of networked expertise to simple topological properties of the Net. Artificial, of course, but it is better than just giving the reader a long list of undifferentiated examples. It also dropped the number of classes from six to four, eliminating two particularly troublesome ones that refused to actually exist.

I end the chapter by making a case for expertise taking on the qualities of the Net. As of now, the transition at the end is to a discussion of knowledge being about settling matters. But that means I have to rethink Chapter 3, which is what I’ve been doing this afternoon.

We shall see. Especially once a couple of days have gone by and I re-read Chapter 2. Ulp.

I should perhaps note that if I were trying to lay this book out as an argument, I would switch chapters 3 and 2, so that I first cover the basics about the nature of knowledge before going on to those who profess to have knowledge, viz experts. But I have C2 where it is because I don’t want to make the reader wade through two chapters of theory and background before getting to something that seems practical and relevant. So, I talk about many examples of networked expertise before I’ve framed knowledge. I’m pretty convinced this works better for the reader, because (if it works) it will be a sequential revelation of a deepening ground. That’s so very different from how I was taught to write in philosophy grad school.

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March 18, 2010

[moi] BBC interviews for The Virtual Rvolution

As part of its commitment to openness, the BBC has posted (actually, a few months ago) under a generous-but-not-CC license edited versions of the interviews it did for it’s TV series, The Virtual Revolution. This admirably includes interviews of those who did not make it into the series. Hence, mine is available.

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The original Alice is now online

Just in time for people who really really didn’t like the new Alice movie, Lewis Carroll’s original, handwritten, hand-illustrated version is now online. Carroll had a nice way with the drawings.

This version, which is the one Dodgson handed to Alice Liddell, is somewhat different from the published version. According to the site’s intro, he removed “some of the private family references” and added two chapters.

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March 16, 2010

[berkman] Donnie Dong on separate Internets

Donnie Dong (Hao Dong), a Berkman Fellow, is giving a Berkman Tuesday lunchtime talk.

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.

Donnie begins by asking us to play “spot the difference”: Google’s homepage on March 14 (3.14 — the Google pi logo) and Google.cn (Google’s Chinese home page) on that day. Besides not having the pi logo, the link to gmail is missing on China.cn, there’s no sign-in link, therte’s a link to tianya.cn, and the Chinese version has an official government ICP license number.

Tiany.cn is a massively popular social network. At the hot topics in the forums, there can be millions visitors and millions replies. (Donnie shows one topic that has over 4 million replies, and it was only posted in February of this year.) There are hundreds of boards and board masters, organizationally structured in a way similar to the Chinese government: A secretary general, branching powers, judges, appeals judges, etc. The structure works well. The rules say that no posts can be deleted or edited, so people consider carefully what they are writing. You can petition for a change to any edits made by the board master, but that’s embedded in an administrative bureaucracy. This is “decentralization under a super power,” he says.

QQ.com is an instant messenger app with over 1.4 billion accounts. It offers many kinds of services, all based on IM. It is a closed system with an open API.

Douban.com is a Web 2.0 site. (“Douban” is a Chinese dish.) Douban provides links to media (books, DVDs), etc., and enables its 36M people to comment, review, and discuss them. Everything posted at Douban is public. “Douban has a lot of Habermas’ public sphere.” But, Donnie adds, it strongly supports censorship.

Donnie points to common features of Chinese Web sites. First, they accept Web 2.0 ideas, but make user-generated contents controllable. Second, they only comply with Chinese culture. Third, they provide integrated services, not an open API. Fourth, they are driven by instant messaging, with a bulletin board management style. The Chinese Internet is not driven by email but by IM.

Google has never made money in China, Donnie says.

Donnie points out the “music” link on the Google.cn page. Google.cn actually is provided by t0p100.cn [I may not have transcribed accurately]. You can download legal music there. But at mp3.Baidu.com you can search the Internet and download what you find. Baidu has been sued, but it’s been defended by the safe harbor laws. Google has been copying Baidu, but not very successfully, Donnie says.

Until 2005, the Chinese control over the Net was accomplished mainly by technical control. From 2003-9, there was more and more legal enforcement. In 2010, there is a legislative rebooting. There is now a jungle of licenses: domains, commercial websites, webcast website, news website, online games…

The switch from tech to law has increased certainty because the authorities have explained why sites are being shut down. It has also caused important discussions to occur. But, the law is immature and thus enforcement is somewhat arbitrary. And the “clouds of licensing systems” are still difficult to navigate. But, these are temporary.

Hillary Clinton said there is a single Internet, says Donnie. “I do not think it is really true from the cultural, legal, and linguistic aspects.” Tim Wu, in Who Controls the Internet, says that the Internet is splitting, and there are under-appreciated advantages of this. “I agree,” says Donnie. Can we get along with each other in this world if the Net splits? “I think we can,” he says, because the Net consists of autonomous systems connected without hierarchy. We have to look at the Internet as pluralist, he says.

What we should really care about, he says, is that those with wealth, who have more access to the Net, do not replicate the economic/social divide on the Internet. [This is based on a brief conversation with Donnie afterwards.]

Q: The Chinese language itself is a barrier, in both directions, but not with Taiwan. Are the sites accessible?
A: Most of the Taiwanese Web sites are accessible in China, including the official government sites. Some sites that advocate Taiwan’s continuing autonomy are not accessible.

Q: What will be the effect of the announcement that access to the Internet is a basic human right?
A: The BBC had a survey that showed that 80% of people believe that, and that news was published all over the Chinese Web sites without problem. The problem is the law from the 1990s. I believe they will be changed sooner or later.

Q: To what extent does the system of govt bureaucracy account for the siloed nature of their services?
A: I think those structures were based on the notion that the Internet is just like other public media, such as TV.

Q: How does the censorship look from the inside?
A: As Rebecca MacKinnon said, most of the citizens don’t feel the censorship. There’s so much information available, so much news, so many services, so many forums. And if you really want to get some information, you can find a way to. And if you really want to express something, you can. The filtering mechanism can’t work perfectly, and their are many examples of this.
Q: What’s wrong with the system?
A: Because it reflects the old mass media, not on the Internet’s nature. It’s old logic. If we can reform the law so that it fits the Internet better, the question will be less urgent.

Q: You’re optimistic about the future of the split Internet. But there should be a common denominator wherever you go. A core function of the Net is to foster the circulation of info. What about the Chinese attitude toward copyright protection?
A: You can compare the systems of censorship and copyright protection. In China, there is a great deal of “freedom” (in quotes) in using copyrighted materials, even though China’s copyright laws are pretty much the same as everyone’s. The govt could do a campaign to fight piracy just as it does to fight pornography, and it could be very effective.

Q: It’s normal that a medium would be adapted to local needs. But do you think there is something about the Net’s design and essence that is core so that if it were changed, it’s not the Internet?
A: I believe everyone in the world has universal rights that should be complied with. But I’m suggesting that the separated parts of the Net could have universal principles and universal protocols.
Q: What separates the Internets?
A: Infrastructurally, linguistically, culturally, legally. By infrastructure, I mean the physical base of the Net. The protocols are the same.

Q: Can you compare the Chinese Internet to other linguistically isolated cultures? E.g., Would you say that Japan has a different Internet as well?
A: The term “pluralism” itself has many layers.

Q: What’s the effect on the ordinary Chinese citizen on Google’s departure? A Nature poll says that Google is the first choice of scientists in China.
A: Google won’t quit all of China. (This is just a guess, he says.) Resourceful users will be able to get to Google even after it departs.

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March 15, 2010

Hummingbird cam

Here’s a live webcam of a hummingbird sitting on a nest with eggs in it. (It could only be improved on if they head-mounted a camera on the bird itself.)

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Americans wants news, not newspapers (from sheep to bees)

Pew Internet has released its contribution to Pew’s annual report on the state of the news media.

My take on the results: Online users generally want news, but we don’t much care where it comes from. 71% of us get our news online, but only 35% of us have a favorite site. Of those 35%, only 65% check it every day. And only 18% of us are willing to pay for online news (a percentage that includes those of us who already do pay). Most of us which would switch sites if they began charging.

The report casually describes our activity as “grazing,” which I’d push back on. My guess is that often we’re going to news sites because someone we know or someone we read has linked to the site. We’re more like bees than like sheep, darting out of the hive when one of our co-bees does an interesting enough little dance.

Anyway, it’s the usual great work by Pew. Thanks, and thanks for posting it for free.

And while were on the semi-subject, here’s a status report from Google about what it’s been doing with DoubleClick and display ads.

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