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November 26, 2014

Welcome to the open Net!

I wanted to play Tim Berners-Lee’s 1999 interview with Terry Gross on WHYY’s Fresh Air. Here’s how that experience went:

  • I find a link to it on a SlashDot discussion page.

  • The link goes to a text page that has links to Real Audio files encoded either for 28.8 or ISBN.

  • I download the ISBN version.

  • It’s a RAM (Real Audio) file that my Mac (Yosemite) cannot play.

  • I look for an updated version on the Fresh Air site. It has no way of searching, so I click through the archives to get to the Sept. 16, 1999 page.

  • It’s a 404 page-not-found page.

  • I search for a way to play an old RAM file.

  • The top hit takes me to Real Audio’s cloud service, which offers me 2 gigabytes of free storage. I decline.

  • I pause for ten silent seconds in amazement that the Real Audio company still exists. Plus it owns the domain “”

  • I download a copy of RealPlayerSP from CNET, thus probably also downloading a copy of MacKeeper. Thanks, CNET!

  • I open the Real Player converter and Apple tells me I don’t have permission because I didn’t buy it through Apple’s TSA clearance center. Thanks, Apple!

  • I do the control-click thang to open it anyway. It gives me a warning about unsupported file formats that I don’t understand.

  • Set System Preferences > Security so that I am allowed to open any software I want. Apple tells me I am degrading the security of my system by not giving Apple a cut of every software purchase. Thanks, Apple!

  • I drag in the RAM file. It has no visible effect.

  • I use the converter’s upload menu, but this converter produced by Real doesn’t recognize Real Audio files. Thanks, Real Audio!

  • I download and install the Real Audio Cloud app. When I open it, it immediately scours my disk looking for video files. I didn’t ask it to do that and I don’t know what it’s doing with that info. A quick check shows that it too can’t play a RAM file. I uninstall it as quickly as I can.

  • I download VLC, my favorite audio player. (It’s a new Mac and I’m still loading it with my preferred software.)

  • Apple lets me open it, but only after warning me that I shouldn’t trust it because it comes from [dum dum dum] The Internet. The scary scary Internet. Come to the warm, white plastic bosom of the App Store, it murmurs.

  • I drag the file in to VLC. It fails, but it does me the favor of tellling me why: It’s unable to connect to WHYY’s Real Audio server. Yup, this isn’t a media file, but a tiny file that sets up a connection between my computer and a server WHYY abandoned years ago. I should have remembered that that’s how Real worked. Actually, no, I shouldn’t have had to remember that. I’m just embarrassed that I did not. Also, I should have checked the size of the original Fresh Air file that I downloaded.

  • A search for “Time Berners-Lee Fresh Air 1999” immediately turns up an NPR page that says the audio is no longer available.

    It’s no longer available because in 1999 Real Audio solved a problem for media companies: install a RA server and it’ll handle the messy details of sending audio to RA players across the Net. It seemed like a reasonable approach. But it was proprietary and so it failed, taking Fresh Air’s archives with it. Could and should have Fresh Air converted its files before it pulled the plug on the Real Audio server? Yeah, probably, but who knows what the contractual and technical situation was.

    By not following the example set by Tim Berners-Lee — open protocols, open standards, open hearts — this bit of history has been lost. In this case, it was an interview about TBL’s invention, thus confirming that irony remains the strongest force in the universe.

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  • August 9, 2014

    Tim Berners-Lee’s amazingly astute 1992 article on this crazy Web thing he started

    Dan Brickley points to this incredibly prescient article by Tim Berners-Lee from 1992. The World Wide Web he gets the bulk of the credit for inventing was thriving at CERN where he worked. Scientists were linking to one another’s articles without making anyone type in a squirrely Internet address. Why, over a thousand articles were hyperlinked.

    And on this slim basis, Tim outlines the fundamental challenges we’re now living through. Much of the world has yet to catch up with insights he derived from the slightest of experience.

    May the rest of us have even a sliver of his genius and a heaping plateful of his generosity.


    March 15, 2014

    It’s the 25th anniversary of the Web, not the Internet. It’s important to remember the difference.

    I just posted at about why it’s important to remember the difference between the Net and the Web. Here’s the beginning:

    A note to NPR and other media that have been reporting on “the 25th anniversary of the Internet”: NO, IT’S NOT. It’s the 25th anniversary of the Web. The Internet is way older than that. And the difference matters.

    The Internet is a set of protocols?—?agreements?—?about how information will be sliced up, sent over whatever media the inter-networked networks use, and reassembled when it gets there. The World Wide Web uses the Internet to move information around. The Internet by itself doesn’t know or care about Web pages, browsers, or the hyperlinks we’ve come to love. Rather, the Internet enables things like the World Wide Web, email, Skype, and much much more to be specified and made real. By analogy, the Internet is like an operating system, and the Web, Skype, and email are like applications that run on top of it.

    This is not a technical quibble. The difference between the Internet and the Web matters more than ever for at least two reasons.

    Continued at

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    May 1, 2011

    A big question

    Why did the world shatter at the touch of a hyperlink?

    Newspapers, encyclopedias, record companies, telephones, politics, education, analytics, scientifics, genetics, libraries, mass media, high culture, television, classrooms, assholism, channels, columns, stations, tours, travel, marketing, picketing, knitting, hectoring, picturing, gossiping, friendship redefined, attention redefined, leadership redefined, defamation redefined, curating, editing, publishing, correcting, crowds, mobs, shopping, bar-hopping, catalogs, sing-alongs, fact-checking, being together, being apart, staying together, moving on. Social forms and major institutions, many set in the Earth on stone foundations, fell down at the flick of a hyperlink.

    How could that have happened?

    Every discipline has its answer: economics, business, media, anthropology, sociology, religion, linguistics. You name it, and they have a theory. Of course they do because the collapse of institutions is a big deal, so the biggest deal frameworks have to provide some hypothesis.

    We need all those explanations, and we need them all at once. All I’d add is that part of the explanation is that we knew all along that atoms were never up to the job. We knew that the world doesn’t boil down to even the best of newspapers, that it doesn’t fit into 65,000 articles in a printed encyclopedia, that there was more disagreement than the old channels let through. (What they called noise, we called the the world.) We knew that the crap pushed through the radio wasn’t really all that we cared about, or that we all cared about the same things within three tv channels of difference. The old institutions were the best fictions we could come up with given that atoms are way too big.

    The old institutions were more fragile than we let ourselves believe. They were fragile because they made the world small. A bigger truth burst them. The world is more like a messy, inconsistent, ever-changing web than like a curated set of careful writings. Truth burst the world made of atoms.

    Yes, there is infinite space on the Web for lies. Nevertheless, the Web’s architecture is a better reflection of our human architecture. We embraced as if it were always true, and as if we had known it all along, because it is and we did.


    January 29, 2008

    Course begins

    I’m too nervous to be able to blog about the course I’m co-teaching with John Palfrey, beyond saying that we had our first session yesterday, and there’s a course blog open to the students as posters and to anyone as a reader. (We didn’t have time yesterday to tell the students the URL, so none have posted there yet.) Well, I will say a couple more things: The title of the course is “The Web Difference,” and it’s about whether and how the Web is different, and what that means for law and policy. Also, JP is an awesome teacher. OMG.

    What the heck. Yesterday, after going through preliminaries and intros, JP led the class for half an hour in a discussion of a case in which awful things were said on a discussion board, yet the discussion board owner was not held liable. If those things had been said in a newspaper, the paper could have been sued. What’s the difference in the two situations and why might the law be different in them? I led a similarly-themed discussion, far more awkwardly, about whether friendship on the Web is “real” and how it differs from real world friendship. [Tags: ]


    October 11, 2007

    Explain cookies, win $5,000

    Berkman and, sponsored by Google, are having a contest. Create a YouTube that explains cookies and win yourself $5,000. And before you waste your time getting out the flour and the cookie cutters, be sure to read the rules. [Tags: cookies videos contests youtubes berkman ]

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    September 17, 2007

    Asks Jimmy Wales a question

    As part of One Web Day Matthew Burton is holding an Ask-Jimmy-Wales-a-Question event. To participate, go here. The event will be live in NYC on Saturday. If you’re in town, here’s the info. [Tags: onewebday ]

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    One Web Day at the Berkman Center

    On Tuesday at 12:30, the Berkman Center wil celebrate One Web Day [video | rocketboom] by devoting its weekly lunch discussion to The Net in Ten. Four Fellows will each give a five minute presentation on the future of the Net, and then there will be open discussion. You can sign up for the lunch here. [Tags: onewebday future ]

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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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