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March 26, 2007

Google Docs and CSS: Why not?

I’ve been using Google Docs to write documents that are collaborative. It’s a good first gen product, and I enjoy using it, but it would take a giant step forward if it let me apply a CSS style sheet to the docs I’m composing.

This is such an obvious idea that there must be something obviously wrong with it. [Tags: ]


November 28, 2006

[Berkman] Nancy Hafkin on Women in the knowledge society

Nancy Hafkin, co-editor (with Sophia Huyer) of Cinderella or Cyberella: Empowering Women in the Knowledge Society, is giving a Berkman lunchtime talk on the topic of the book. Rather than focus on knowledge societies within economically advanced cultures, she looks at empowering those who need it. (What follows are real-time notes, full of errors and omissions. Sorry.)

“Cinderella works in the basement of the knowledge society,” she says. “Cinderella has little opportunity to reap its benefits and waits for ”her prince’ to decide the benefits she’ll receive.” Cyberella, on the other hand, is “fluent in the uses of technology, comfortable using and desinging computer equipment and software,” finds information to improve her life, becomes an active knowledge creator and disseminator.

Sue Rosser at Georgia Tech outlines 4 stages of ICT inclusion. (1) Women’s concerns aren’t noticed by the IT sector. (2) Women’s issues are “added on” to existing structures. (3) Women are seen as workers, users and designers of ICT. (4) Women are included as equals.

There are few statistics available globally about the situation of woman and IT, she says. “Without data, there is no visibility. Without visibility, there is not priority.” The International Telecommunications Union is the major source of such stats. Until 2003, they didn’t break out women. They haven’t updated it since 2002. And it only covers 39 countries—only one in Africa, one in the Middle East, in Latin America it’s the five richest countries…The data reflects the digital divide., an organization of UNESCO chairs, had a project measuring the info society. In 2005, it tried to look at stats on women. It’s the first systematic data collection about the situation of women. It found that the Internet penetration does not correlate with the the proportion of female Internet users. It happens sometimes but “there are all sorts of anomalies.” France, Netherlands, Germany and the UK have a high level of Net penetration but the rate of women Net users is fairly low. Conclusion: Tech won’t trickle down evenly by itself. “The gender divide and the digital divide do not move in tandem.”

Where is most attention going? In the West, it goes to women in the IT industry, especially the intersections with globalization, e.g., “issues in women and call center employment.” People also pay attention to women in science and tech ed, comparative access of women and men to the Internet, and women using ICs for political empowerment.

The major challenges: ICTs for poverty reduction and for empowering women. ICTs for women’s health, well being and income. ICTs applied to existing business and enterprise (as opposed to ICT-enabled businesses). E.g., Muhamma Yunus Grameen VillagePhone is exemplary. But she’d like to see more of things like Anastasia in Uganda, a 78-yr-old illiterate chicken farmer when she came in contact with a project called Rural Women Earning Money [pdf]. Using sound and graphic interfaces, it showed them many techniques and skills for improving the fficiency, productivity for increasing the income of their existing enterprises. In Anastasia’s case, it helped her be a better chicken farmer. Anastasia has gone on the road as an evangelist for the program.

Why single out women? Because otherwise the myth of gender neutral technology will cause us to ignore women’s situation. While there is growing awareness of the role of gender in development, but not enough yet.

The existing constraints: Little access. Gendered access. Public access in non-women-friendly spots. Lack of education. Language barriers. Geographical location. Lack of disposable time. Limited mobility. Lack of appropriate content. Technophobia. Gender socialization about technology.

There are also policy-level constraints: Women are absent from IT policy. [I missed some points.] “Are the technology choices being made making technology equally available to men and women?”

“So, is info tech a silver bullet for women or the latest problem for women?” As a problem, the Net increases porn, facilitates trafficking, and is “associated with increased domestic violence and assertions of patriarchy” (citing two African studies) because the men see “their” women using the cybercafe as an attempt to break out. On the other hand, ICTs “can contribute much to the process of realizing human capabiltiies, potential, freedom, as basic components of development.” (She notes she’s citing Amartya Sen’s definition of development.)

Q: (Rebecca Mackinnon) Are there useful stats in any country about passive use vs. creation on line, etc.?
A: The info is scattered. One of the best is by WorldLinks. (She refers to Mar Coumba.)

Q: Do you know of any grassroots projects, where women are designing the programs or technology themselves?
A: Not a lot spring to mind. The Village Knowledge Centers in Southern India are an example.

Q: (Ethan Zuckerman) Are there correlations to cultural issues?
A: We’re trying to get funded to do country studies. Obviously, the factors are varying when you see countries like France and Kyrgyzstan with the same rates of women participation on the Net.

Ethan: In the Philipines you’re likely to find that people jumped on the Net for basic communications use: VOIP, etc.

Nancy: Korea does a good job with the stats. Korea has a program called “Train a Million Housewives.”

Q: (Colin McClay) I think the distinction between productive and nonproductive uses is misleading. Use is like a gateway drug.
A: I agree. In developing companies, the Net offers a way out of isolation.

Q: I’d like to see stats about wome ncreating content as opposed to just using the Net, broken down by country. If you had more women creating, you would have more usage.
A: There are no statistics on that, to my knowledge. On a qualitative basis what’s happening is…that it’s happening. Certainly it does lead to greater usage. You can see it anecdotally.

Q: (Rebecca) In many places, cybercafes are not women-friendly. How do you educate men so they can interact with women in a more welcoming way, rather than repeating online the negative patterns of the real world?
A: The only guidelines I’ve seen come from IRDC…

Q: Is there a project along the lines of giving seed money to the neighborhood grandmother to run a little cybercafe in her home?
A: VillagePhone came to be like that. Many of the village kiosks in India are run by women.

Q: It sounds like we’re assuming the Internet is culturally neutral. Maybe the solution isn’t to create cybercafes in a particular culture, but maybe some of the resistance to the tech is because of the technology. We are in danger of imposing an information imperialism. Should we be using a laptop where a book would do? When you import a laptop, you import the heavy, toxic metals.
A: The emphasis on developing local content is a reaction to this.

Q: How many books could you buy for the $100 cost of the $100 laptop? [Brewster Kahle says you could make 100 books for $100. But the $100 laptop will give access to thousands and thousands of books.]
A: (Ethan) Leaders in the developing world don’t want to be left behind on this. You can’t disseminate your info by buying books. Some developing nations see ITC as a way of developing their economies. There’s a lot of pull. In my work in the field, I never had to “sell” what I was doing. The concern about imperialism might be slightly misplaced.

A: It could be intellectual imperialism. It’s the Enlightenment Project spreading itself. E.g., we’ve assumed that extending lifetimes is a good thing…
A: (Ethan) If we’re going to question the Green Revolution and the extension of the life span, there isn’t much common ground for discussion…[Colin sends it ofline.]

Nancy concludes by saying that there’s so much work to be done…

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August 27, 2006 reads feeds

As continues to explore ways to do make its searches yet more relevant and more thought-provoking — provocativeness is a possible fourth horseman riding next to precision, recall and relevancy — it’s now leading its search results with the latest three entries from the appropriate RSS feed. So, if you search for “boingboing,” the list is topped by the latest three posts on

Currently, the feature only works for the most popular blogs, and it spottily finds the feeds for search terms other than the blog’s name (e.g., the “cory doctorow” results page lists is topped by Cory’s Wikipedia article, not the BoingBoing feed), but I assume it’ll only get better over time. And why not add non-blog feeds, such as’s?

It’s a nice way to take pull feeds into a spot where people were not looking for them. [Tags: ]

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August 7, 2006

Google to warn users away from malware sites

From a msg from

Google – which is one of our partners – will now present people with a warning before they visit websites that have been reported to as sites that distribute badware. These warnings currently link to a general page on, but as we finish researching sites, we’ll replace the general page with one of our individual website reports.

Very interesting. This could prevent millions of people from loading up their machines with viruses and other types of malware when they think they’re just downloading a free font or signing up for a newsletter.

<[>But I feel just a tad ambivalent. I know and trust folks at StopBadWare. It’s in part a Berkman venture. And it makes 100% sense as a plug-in. But although Google is of course technically an edge app, in the geopolitics of the Net, it’s a sort of upper-stack center (if that made any sense), so it makes me just a tad anxious when it begins dis-recommending (dreckommending?) sites. On the other hand, if Google used StopBadWare’s data to lower the page rank of malefactors, I wouldn’t feel as anxious, so I think I’m just being irrational. Overall, giving users a tool — especially one as open as StopBadWare — for avoiding tricksters and traps is a positive step. [NOTE (added the next day): I should have noted that I’m an advisor to a company (SiteAdvisor) that has a plugin that does roughly what StopBadWare does. I like both organizations and have no financial reason to shill for SiteAdvisor.] [Tags: ]

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July 24, 2006

Video interview with me talking about Cluetrain, PR, etc.

Mario Sixtus of Handlesblatt has posted a video interview he did in which he asked me about Cluetrain, PR, ID, Web 2.0, etc. [Tags: ]


July 14, 2006

How big was the Web?

Tim Bray has posted Measuring the Web, an award-winning talk he gave in 1996 when he was at Open Text (Tim was a founder and head tech strategist; I had joined as marketing vp), one of the early Web indexing companies. A snapshot in November 1995 found 11,366,121 unique URLs and 223,851 unique servers. Current estimates are omigod unique URLs and you-gotta-be-kidding unique servers.

Lots of other interesting stats in the paper, including size of the average page, average number of embedded images (“just over 50% of all pages contain at least one image reference”), and number o links. [Tags: ]


June 1, 2006

Microformats gets a push, or is it a pull?

Microformats are quick-and-dirty standards for expressing common data types. The standard example is a microformat for reviews which lets a blogger encode the expected data — name of the reviewed thing, number of stars, commentary, etc. — in a standard way so another app can harvest it and, perhaps, aggregate all the reviews of restaurants in Watertown. Microformats are developed quickly, using what’s out there as a starting point, aiming at usable but probably incomplete standards, as opposed to setting up an industry committee to argue for 12 years about what Platonic ideal of the standard.

So, today Technorati [Disclosure: I’m on the board of advisors and I’m friends with a bunch of Technoratians] announced that Technorati is going to provide searching that understands the data in microformats. For example, if you search for “chinese” within reviews, you get back reviews of Chinese restaurants but not blogs that talk about Chinese Checkers. (I assume that at some point Technorati’s microformats search — currently a research beta — will let us do fielded searches within microformat domains, e.g., have a box where we can enter dates when searching for events.)

Technorati also announced Pingerati, a service that aggregates and distributes microformat pings to anyone who wants them. So, if you have a calendar app that supports microformats, you can set it to ping Pingerati whenever you update it. Anyone who wants to build an app that uses updated calendar information can subscribe to it. (Unlike existing ping services, Pingerati is designed to work for pages that aren’t blogs as well as for blogs.) Dave Sifry, founder of Technorati, says that Pingerati is free both to pingers and to those who want to receive the pings.

This is all good news because we need more metadata. Metadata lets us surf the information tsunami. Microformats are highly useful, but they won’t be adopted unless there are apps that make use of them. Today’s announcements make it easier for others to make something out of microformat data.

Hats off to Tantek Çelik for the enormous amount of work he’s put into this, and to Technorati for enabling Tantek to do this. [Tags: ]


May 21, 2006

Rageboy rants, Ethan contemplates

Two learned, serious friends sorting through the world:

The oft-unraveling RageBoy is raveling like mad. In Spiritual but not Jewish he’s on about the connection of New Age thinking and the history of racism. I love the title of his post, making concrete exactly what one who says “spiritual but not religious” is rejecting (where one substitutes the speaker’s religion for “Jewish,” as appropriate). Since I think “spiritual but not religious” exhibits the Fear of Being Historical that is the basis of so much of the West’s self-loathing, it works for me. (There’s nothing as pathetic as a culture that loathes itself for the wrong reasons. On the other hand, has a culture ever loathed itself for the right reasons?)

Meanwhile, Ethan recently had a fascinating and detailed post about the languages of the Web now and upcoming. Also not to be missed: Ethan on what the US can learn about Net neutrality from Africa.

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May 19, 2006

Over one billion served

In late 2005, the Internet got its one billionth customer. The rumor is that the lucky winner received a lifetime supply of pornographic spam and genuine Nigerian scams. Just like the rest of us.

According to a report from eMarketer, 845M use the Internet “regularly.” About 250M households (how many people per household, I wonder) will have broadband this year. Although the US has the most Internet users and broadband households, Asia-Pacific has almost 40% of the world’s broadband households. Latin America is growing fastest.

For more details – like why with, say, 2.5 people per household, the total broadband population number seems implausibly high – please send $700 to eMarketer. And then spill the beans about what you find out. [Tags:]

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April 28, 2006

Is the Internet moral

I’m talking on Sunday morning at my brother and sister-in-law’s local Ethical Culture chapter in Maplewood, NJ. My topic is “Is the Internet moral?” My sister-in-law, Meredith Sue Willis, posted a notice on the local community bulletin board, immediately drawing a bunch of well-earned contemptuous comments. Lively, to say the least.

I gave a talk at DAMA on Wednesday where someone reminded me about a piece I wrote in 2000. It lays out what I plan on saying on Sunday (skipping the non-moral metaphysics parts). I also realized how much it lays out what became Small Pieces Loosely Joined. (I hate the beginning of the piece. Bad bad writing.) [Tags: ]


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