Joho the Blog » open internet

November 15, 2012

Al Gore at Reddit on the open Internet

Lots of good stuff as VP Gore answers questions mainly about climate change.

But there’s also this from him:

Our national information infrastructure is no longer competitive. We need to invest in more bandwidth, easier access, and the rapid transition of our democratic institutions to the internet. And we need to protect the freedom of the internet against corporate control by legacy businesses that see it as a threat, and against the obscene invasions of privacy and threats to security from government and corporations alike. Please think about this: almost everytime there has been a choice between privacy/security on the one hand and convenience on the other, the mass of folks have chosen convenience. I for one believe the “stalker economy” on the internet is undemocratic and anti- American. Are folks at the gag point on this yet? Thanks, btw, to the Reddit community for fighting off Sopa and PIPA. Keep your powder dry; more big struggles ahead.

F@#$ing Florida :(

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November 21, 2011

[avignon] What I learned at Avignon about the Internet

So what did I learn at the Forum d’Avignon about the fate of the Internet in Europe?

It’s of course impossible to distill the entire conference, especially since much of the benefit was getting to meet some fascinating people. And, it’s impossible to feel confident about these lessons because the event consisted of 450 invited guests, so my sample was skewed, even though there was an attempt to achieve balance across cultures, beliefs, and genders. (Fully half of the attendees were women.) Nevertheless, …

Within this set of policy makers and large industry players, there is a conviction that the Internet is primarily a threat that has put all of culture and creativity at risk.

Why do they see it that way? Many of them are content publishers. To them, the Net looks like a competitive publishing medium that connects cultural content to consumers via search engines. Although the conference puts this concern in terms of the failure of the Net to connect consumers to worthy objects of culture, virtually all the public discussion was about the economic threat the current purveyors of mass culture feel. They believe that without the strictest enforcement of copyright, creators won’t be able to earn a living, and thus the Net will kill culture. The idea that the Net is actually the greatest engine of culture in history was expressed only three times, each time by Americans. [The next day: That last sentence is an overstatement. Americans expressed this idea the most directly and forcefully, it seems to me, but not solely.]

Authors rights were taken at the Forum as an economic imperative and as a moral imperative. There is no sense at all that those rights might be usefully balanced with the rights of “consumers” and makers. None. Zilch. Fair Use — granted, an American concept — was raised once in passing. (Victoria Espinel, Obama’s IP Czar, mentioned it, very positively.) The attendees were so convinced that authors’ rights are supreme that they left the conference convinced that there is consensus on the topic. Indeed, the conference ended with a summary of the ministerial summit on culture that was held in parallel with the first day of the conference: All the stakeholders agree on the supreme importance of fighting piracy. Of course, that ministerial meeting [Later: it was called the Cultural Summit, I have learned] included no users at all. So much for “all the stakeholders.” (I pointed this out to the person who convened the meeting (which I was not at, of course), and he said that the government representatives were there to represent users.)

Because of their view of the Net as a publishing medium, and because of the abundance of content on the Net, the dominant paradigm of the Forum views Google as the center of the Net. The participants thus wondered what sort of legislation is required to enforce “search neutrality” against Google. Now, there is no denying that Google is a center of the Net, and its algorithms have a great deal of effect on which pages are seen. But the participants at the Forum had what seemed to me to be a monomaniacal focus on Google, which makes sense if you’re thinking of the Net as a pile of content mediated by an index. They seemed to have no sense that there are living networks of people recommending and linking outside of Google’s search box. And for many of us, the transformative effect of the Net has been as a social place, not as an information medium.

Based on random interactions, it seems to me that at this meeting the small coalition that supported users’ rights as well as authors’ rights consisted of Americans, librarians, and students. Had there been more hackers here, I suspect they’d join our little band, but engineers, geeks and techies were woefully under-represented.

Overall, quite depressing, with the most profound anti-Internet sentiment coming from President Sarkozy in an 1.5 talk and discussion he favored us with.

Vive l’internet ouvert!

[All errors in French due to Google Translate.]

________

It is true that European Commissioner Neelie Kroes attacked the focus on copyright as misguided. Many in the media seem to have heard this as a call for copyright reform. (Here’s my live-blogging of her remarks.) I did not. I thought she was fully backing the rights of authors and strong copyright protection, but saying that we need to do more to create business models that create more money for creators. I did not hear Neelie suggesting copyright reform. I hope I’m wrong.

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November 18, 2011

[avignon] Forum d’Avignon intro, and second session

The Forum d’Avignon is an annual meeting of invited guests, heavily from the French culture industries, with a handful of Internet people sprinkled in, and interesting international representation. It is a high end conference for sure: beautiful hotels in beautiful Avignon, a welcome reception in the historic and ornate Town Hall, dinner in the Palais de Papes — the Palace of Popes, a visit from Pres. Sarkozy in a couple of hours. The sessions themselves are held in a long hall lined with seats facing one another. The overall topic this year — the 4th annual Forum — is “investing in culture.” The sessions consist of group interviews in the middle.

James “Jamie” Boyle is here, I’m very happy to say. He speaks tomorrow. They sat me next to him at dinner last night (yay!) and among other wise things, said that conferences always have narratives. It’s not yet clear to me what the narrative for this Forum is, although I have apparently been asked to play the role this afternoon of The Bringer of Discomfort, or possibly, He Who Should Be Heard Once and then Ignored.

I am very appreciative to have been brought here (expenses paid). And I am double appreciative to be one of the relative few people who are given a chance to speak. But I have to say that this conference cries out to be an unconference.

 


Antoine Gosset Grainville makes a case for investing in culture.

Urbanist Charles Landry says that culture needs to move into the center again because of the rapid pace of development and globalization. The right question is: What is the cost of not thinking about culture, art, design, green, etc.? So, of course we want a lot of artists. But we also want interesting and provocative art.

Vincent Frosty (investor) has looked at who is investable and at 50 cultural projects. They’ve found that cultural and non-cultural investments are treated roughly the same.

Charles: Urban engineers think of city-making in terms of creating infrastructure, vs. the sensory experience of cities. Hardware is not the totality of life. The engineering approach can sometimes be insensitive, although engineering is a wonderful discipline. E.g., Chicago Millennial Park that transformed a parking lot. A city is a place of meeting, transacting, exchange, etc. Cities are aiming at reinventing the art of conviviality. That’s how culture is reinvigorated. This is intangible, confounding accountants. Creative city-making is a paradigm shift. The best cultural policy: 1. Link us to enlightenment. 2. Life our spirits; empowers us. 3. Entertains us. 4. Employability. 5. Economic impact.

[Why is it not clear here that when it comes to culture, the Internet is the new city? It is where culture is happening and accelerating, even though from the outside it looks like a warren of pickpockets, drunks, and prostitutes.]

Vincent: My policy guidelines: Open to partnerships. Sustainable beyond the creators.

Charles: I looked at 6 European cities. All have used culture in one way or another. Often they use old buildings. Culture is increasingly embedded into the economy in subtle ways, and new forms of working that are less hierarchical.

Vincent: Demand is strong for culture. But culture alone is not going to get us out of the economic crisis.

Charles: We want to create conditions in which ordinary people make the extraordinary happen.

Vincent: Viviendi has made cultural enrichment a target by which executives are measured.

Now new people come to the panel. David Throsby is an Australian economist. Jochen Gerze is an artist. Syhem Belkhodja is a Tunisian choreographer.

David: How do economists regard culture? “Cultural capital” has economic and cultural value. Expenditure on culture is an investment in culture. Now we can use the methods of economic analysis. Five examples: 1. Bengarra Dance Company in Australia turns aboriginal people’s stories into contemporary dance. It’s a risky investment, but the payoff is that it contributes to the viability of the dance company, plus the obvious cultural payoff. 2. A new museum (“M9″) in the city of Maestra next to Venice, with cultural benefit plus economic payoff in increased tourism, etc. 3. Skopje in Macaedonia is investing in the old bazaar in its historic center. Local businesses benefit, with an important social payoff because before the investment there was a lot of inter-ethnic conflict there. Now it’s a social space. 4. In Papua New Guinea, basket weavers using traditional methods are making products sellable on the international market, especially empowering women. 5. The National Theatre Live project in the UK transmits live performances to cinemas all over Europe. Finally, we need a model of the cultural economy that puts the core creative artists at the center. [Liked this until that last point. I would have preferred a networked model, rather than the concentric circles David displayed.]

Jochen: Much of what we’ve heard this morning is true and useful. But we’re making a mistake by basing ourselves on the Renaissance view of art in which you bid people to stand in admiration of a work and keep their mouths shut. Democracy informs our cultural practices. E.g., I did a year-long project called “Two Three Streets,” an artistic project in the public space. Today’s art always raises the question of whether it is art. So, we invited people to spend a year rent-free in exchange for contributing to a common text to be written, and to change a street in three cities in the Ruhr area [?]. 1,500 people applied from all over the world. 78 [?] participants were accepted, between ages 17 and 90. Changing a street in a disadvantaged part of town…that is not an art project. For a year, 800 people participated in writing a shared text. The Net brought them together, 16 languages, 3,000 pages. It sold out. An ebook is being prepared, and instead of being sold for 80 euros it will cost around 8 euros. In 1837 Novalis said: “Perhaps one day we shall write, think and act in common. Someday perhaps an entire nation will create a work of art.” Some have stayed on to continue the community work of this project, not as art but as an economic, social, and cultural project. Art can affect an entire culture, but not necessarily by artists. It is like aspirin that dissolves into the entire system.

Syhem: The elections in Tunisia have made it harder than ever to talk about culture. Women had some freedom under the old dictator. 28 yrs ago when I started dancing, women could not participate in politics, but we could have our own cultural spaces. It was hard because it is an Islamic culture, but you just had to cheat a little, and talk about entertainment or majorettes rather than dance. To my dismay, after the revolution I realized that perhaps we’d been naive and they’d exploited us. In 2002 I organized a contemporary dance festival, working with Martha Graham and others, and I called the whole dancing clan and …[translator fails]. I’m a moderate, modern Muslim and think that women are free. [Sorry, but the translator is incomprehensible.] In 2006, I said we have to make it free of charge. 24 Koranic channels today. I respect the decision of the voters, but out of 4M voting, only 1.6% voted for the Islamicists. It’s not a lost cause. [The French speaking audience applauds. But the translator pretty much gave up. [Afterwards my friend and moderator Eric Scherer vouched that she was fantastic. I wish I could have understood it.]]

Moderator: Jochen, what do you think the potential role of art is in learning democracy?

Jochen: Whatever happens has an impact on art. Art cannot survive unchanged in a changing world. Art is not there to accompany life. It has to be part of an honest dialogue; we have to get away from the tiresome culture of privilege.

Syhem: New tech is great, but what about the ethics for someone who speaks out? Thanks to the new tech, the Tunisians are holding their heads high. We were pioneers without any foreign help. It’s important that we not break the link [not clear to me which link]. You have to understand influence. If there’s a move away from your values in Egypt, or Libya, but you have to remember there are values out there. It’s not through oil and petrodollars that you can convince people of your values.

Moderator: Today we have the Greater Paris plan. [He introduces someone without naming him, and he’s not listed in the program.]

Person: Greater Paris is a paradigm shift. It is a fruitful encounter bringing together an economic side — clusters of businesses and universities — and then the transport cluster. We have links between suburbs and habitat. Housing has to be intelligent. Culture is going to be like the blood feeding the different organs.

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November 14, 2011

Revolution, politics, and the Internet

On November 11, I had the privilege of being on a panel with Slim Amamou (one of the leaders of the Tunisian revolution) and Rick Falkvinge (the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party). The panel was organized by Luca de Biase at the Italian Internet Governance Forum in Trento.

Here are my notes, taken while up on dais:

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.

SLIM AMAMOU

“I will tell you the story,” Slim Amamou begins in Italian, switching to English after about ten minutes. Slim begins his story in 2010. “At the time there was a wave of censorship in Tunisia. Hundreds of bloggers who criticized the government were censored.” All the critical web sites were censored. That was retaliation “because we had waged a campaign against Ben Ali in the 2009 election.” Blogs that had nothing to do with politics were censored. “We waged a campaign that was very successful. There was a group at the time that decided to take to the streets for freedom on the Internet. That was in 2010.”

“Now, we were organizing that protest publicly, in a public way, but we were under a dictatorship. The government tortured opponents and harassed opponents, and what we were doing was perceived as a night of courage. We had to apply for the permit to have this demonstration at the Ministry of the Interior,” which was called the Ministry of Fear “because it’s where people were tortured. We decided to submit the application and filmed the whole process.” That little video went viral on the Internet “and we got very famous.” “So we started making a serial. We removed the fear little bit by little. People were afraid to talk about Internet freedom. The regime was so tough that you could be harassed or beaten just for saying that Internet censorship exists in Tunisia.” “Eventually I got arrested, but we got released, which removed a little bit of fear at the time.”

These protests were aimed at change, but not revolution. Our diagnosis was that “even if we take Ben Ali out, people don’t know who would become president.” “The mainstream media were so corrupt” that people had no idea who could manage the country. It was not possible to reform the mainstream media “because it was the people themselves who were corrupt.” “But the Internet seemed easier.” It was a technical thing, so you could press a single button and remove the entire censorship. “So we were committed to making a change in Tunisia, but we never planned for revolution.” “The revolution happened in a moment we didn’t expect.” The protests were almost solely organized using the Internet, social networks. “We were not a hierarchy. We were loosely coupled and constantly connected, and that’s how it worked.” So when the demonstrations started in Sidi Bouzid, the media didn’t cover what was happening. So a friend filmed what was happening and blogged about it. Another guy had a network over there…We organized a lot of things to get the information out.” A “snowball effect” happened, “and in the end it was the whole Tunisia that rose up.”

“You could interpret it as an effect of fighting for a free Internet. Ironically, at that time the Internet was not free in Tunisia. We had very strong censorship. In the long run we learned to circumvent it.” If you wanted to watch YouTube, you had to know how to circumvent censorship. [cf. Ethan Zuckerman’s Cute Cats theory!] “We had to change our circumvention tools constantly, and even build our own technology. We adapted to the system, and eventually, at the peak of the revolution, we overcame censorship. I met with the guy who was responsible for the infrastructure and censorship at the time, and he told me that during the last weeks of the revolution, the list of censored web sites doubled. That meant that the government could not cope with the amount of data that was shared. We also adopted techniques and processes so that if someone finds a video on YouTube or Facbook or whatever, before sharing it, it downloads it in case it gets censored so it can be uploaded again. The whole system was organized in that way.”

“I got arrested again on Jan 6 and got out of jail on Jan 13. and on Jan 17 I was Secretary of State for Youth and Sports.”

In response to a comment later on by Rick Falkvinge, Slim said: “The day I was arrested on Jan 6, in the morning I got SMS’s and news about people getting arrested — a rapper, a blogger — so I knew I’d be arrested, so I tweeted: ‘I’m raising my threat level to orange.’ So I get a tweet back saying ‘Why don’t you activate Google Latitude on your phone so we can track you.’ It saved my life. At the time, you don’t get arrested, you get kidnapped: Nobody knows where you are and don’t get news of you for a long time. So for a humanitarian organization to certify you, you need to be gone for 48 hours to prove you didn’t just sleep over. But the guys who arrested me took my phone like a weapon but kept it open, so my position was known, and the news got out quickly, which is part of why I didn’t get tortured physically. The trick is to give the power to the people. We don;t ask to remove those technologies; we just want the people to use them, not the government.”

After the event, I asked Slim whether he thought the Net functioned as more than an organizational tool during the revolution. Did the use of the Net itself encourage political activism and give an experience of liberty that altered political consciousness? Yes, he replied emphatically. he disaagrees.

RICK FALKVINGE

Rick says that when he speaks to sociologists about the Net, they divide in two. 1. Net is greatest invention since the printing press. 2. The Net is greatest invention since written language. The Net changes society that much, by giving everybody a voice. The Net is the greatest equalizer mankind has ever invented. It puts us all on equal footing.

The Swedish Pirate Party came on line Jan 1, 2006. “What sort of idiot thinks he can change the world by starting a political party.” But he figured they only need a few hundred thousand people to make a difference in Sweden. “If people had known just how dystopic a world we’re heading into, they’d be horrified.” E.g., German placing of computer activity recorders in personal computing devices. They can know all about your life. The only difference from the dystopic projections of the 1950s is that we’re buying the surveillance cameras ourselves. “Sharing is not a problem. People having a voice is not a problem. It’s the next generation of industries, of societies, of citizens.” So I took this web site on line. I went into file sharing mode and just typed two lines: Hey look, the Pirate PArty is online. I thought it’d grow gradually I got 3 million hits in the first two days. After three days there were sister parties in four countries. Now in 50 countries. There was a huge success in Berlin; the German Pirate Party is polling at 8-10%. The Italian Pirate Party is holding a meeting in Trento tomorrow.”

“We’re at a crossroads. The price of storing info has gone to zero. The Stassi were using typewriters and carbon paper. Imagine they had today’s tools…The potential for abuse is enormous.”

“At our core, we’re a civil liberties organization. We’re demanding that our children have the same civil liberties that our parents had. We’re demanding that when everyone has a voice, they get to use that voice without being forced to conform to the gov’t. Diversity is enormously positive…We have an example of this with Anonymous in which people have de-named themselves to let the best ideas work. It’s a meritocracy.”

We don’t have an office. People can organize at almost no cost. New tools give us the ability to by-pass governments, to make sure that we a utopic future.

ANDREA CAIROLA

[Because of some difficulties with the translation, and because I was thinking about how to reformulate my own remarks, I have done a terrible job capturing Andrea’s comments. Sorry! ]

Just a few years ago, Arab countries were classified as enemies of the Internet. E.g., Tunisia didn’t give a visa to representatives of Internet freedom. But despite the censorship, the Internet became widespread. Even as the Internet was being subjected to more controls, the ballot movement and the Italian five star movement (started by a blogger) began. We are the country where a national newspaper was financed thanks to an online subscriptions. There are tv programs that are financed totally by the people. In this schizophrenic context, some antibodies were developed that now belong to our DNA as citizens and as readers.

Civil rights cannot be prioritized. They are interconnected. We need to defend these continuously. We are at the beginning of a great revolution. We are lagging behind other European countries, and society is divided into the digital and non-digital classes, but. We are at the beginning of a new change in which we can perhaps use what we’ve learned as citizens.

Q&A

Q: I read when someone was describing freenet: If society generally has a positive attitude, then joining people will bring about something even beter. But if humanity is negative, then nothing better will emerge. So my idea is that that could be a way of understanding the Net, hoping it can raise the best of feelings.

Q: Slim, you told us how you used technology during the revolution. How will you use the technology to build the new Tunisia? Same tools?

A: [slim] I’m very disappointed because the Islamists won the election, but they were fair elections and the majority is probably very happy that the won. But we can probably change the mind of the Islamists because we can make opinions on the Internet. If you want to really use the Net for democracy, you have to have direct democracy: people voting on the issues themselves. But in a representative democracy, the Net is not usable like the media. It’s of course very important as a tool for databases and campaigning, but not for making people choose one candidate over another. It can be used to build a community of volunteers. It is powerful for opinion-making.

A: [rick] There was a scientific report from Sweden finding a generational gap in how we use the Web. Above 35-40, if you have a problem, you identify one or two people who can help you, and you contact only them and expect a response. This is how we’ve cooperated as social creatures since we emerged as species. People below this age work entirely differently. When they identify a problem, they broadcast it to their entire circle of friends and friends of friends They don’t know who will respond, but they know they will be helped. The Net has changed how we cooperated a species. It has flipped a turbo switch we didn’t know we had. There’s a famous quote in Sweden: When I am cooperating on the Net, I am literally not aware where my own thoughts end and others’ start. The single genius has ceased to exist. I think that’s a phenomenon worth defending.

A: [slim] This is known as the hive, the collective mind. On the last day of the revolution, people were screaming “Ben Ali get out!” [in French]. Journalists asked me who created this buzz word. I said no one or everyone. Overnight, all the FB profiles changed their photos to “Ben Ali get out!”

A: [slim] The Internet is closest thing to connecting our brains together.

A: [me] I understand why we talk about the hive mind, and it captures something true about the Net. But in a hive, all bees think the same thing. The real power of the Net comes when those connected minds are thinking differently, and are in disagreement. Also, for me one of the most interesting things is not the direct connection of minds, but the connection of minds through rhetorical forms, new ways of talking to one another and thinking together.

A: [slim] My blog is about the relationship between society and the technology, and how to build society out of technology. I wrote a blog post called Y”et another article about why google should buy twitter.” Google and Twitter are very different because in Gogle you have to ask for the info. On Twitter you say “I’m doing that”; it’s very close to having your thoughts being realized. If you’re in a bus station saying you’re waiting for a bus, you’ll probably get a tweet from a taxi driver. This is like having your ideas realized. You say your state and you get options. Also: Social networks are very basic infrastructure for humanity, so we have to have better technology, tech that is not bent to private companies and are not localized on a server; it should be distributed, because it’s really important infrastructure.

A: [luca] For IGF that’s very important.

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November 12, 2011

Italian Pirate Party to launch today?

While the Pirate Party already has an association in Italy, it seems likely that this afternoon it is going to register as an official party. That’s an exciting and encouraging step.

I of course don’t know what its platform will be, but if it’s similar to that of the other Pirate Parties, then I won’t agree with all of it, but will still welcome its presence as a voice not only for an open Internet — far wider than copyright reform — but for the set of values an open Internet permits: new forms of collaboration, lowering the hurdles to expression, bold experimentation and its concurrent willingness to fail, transparency, and joy in the new possibilities.

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