Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Linksplunge: YouTube to TheirTube, techno-teens, $100 zooming

Some links via unmediated...

1. NYT reports that the rot is setting in... YouTube Adds a Layer of Filtering to Be a Little Nicer (via lost remote). According to the article, comments for (some?) CBS videos are now not only moderated, but also displayed on a different page - although the example given in the Lost Remote post doesn't seem to display that way for me. Maybe this behaviour is different for those signed into YouTube? Or have they changed it back following the press coverage?

Either way, the dichotomy of corporate and anarchy is underway. The old question is, will people start to flock away from YouTube as a result? If one partner have started the trend, it can't be too long until others start setting similar agendas with Google, and before you know it, all the interesting stuff is underground. Again.

2. Interesting - although not too surprising - figures on the technologisation of teenagers, with some insightful observation of where all this networked technology can actually lead us:

"So much technology makes teens feel they are playing a starring role in their own reality TV show ... Teen life has become a theatrical, self-directed media production."

3. And finally a link to a Nooface article on the $100 laptop interface, which will apparently have a zoom metaphor to leap between an application, the desktop, the user's social group, and the neighbourhood social group. I haven't seen this approach before, but I'm sure it must have been used elsewhere. The idea is, I think, a nice way to separate it out, although I'd also be interested to see how the different layers are re-integrated, too. I can certainly imagine some nice desktop apps that might use the metaphor in a side-window for IM contacts/general networks, etc.

Code v2.0 released

Code version 2.0, the revision of the book by Lawrence Lessig, was launched yesterday under a Attribution-ShareAlike license, which means you can copy it and use it in derivative works freely (with credit/same license). The book's revision was conducted through a wiki, so it'll be interesting to see how it differs. One to add to the Christmas list, methinks. (Yes, you can download it for free, but there's nothing like a real tome from real tree...)

The first book is highly recommended, and does a great job of establishing some context and the relationships between all the various factors (technical, political, social) that influence what shapes our networks take. Lessig starts out, IIRC, by making the point that there is nothing inherent in the technology that makes it decentralised, uncontrolled, and that we really shouldn't assume that there is. Worth a read.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Distributed Deliberation vs Distributed Surveillance

Networked technology does not operate in a discursive vacuum. The structures in place that make it possible for people to communicate globally, and for communities to integrate locally, are the same structures that also permit more stringent hierarchies, and greater tracking. As Lessig pointed out, there is nothing inherently "communitarian" or, if you like, "anarchist" in our network infrastructure; code can be changed, and routers can be controlled, such that it's perfectly possible to have a "distributed" network of tough hierarchies - in effect, everyone can sit at the top of their "domain".

This is worth bearing in mind for matters of civil discussion. Arguments over the best way to implement, and to encourage people into these debates is of limited value if the alternative, and often encapsulating contexts are ignored. Seeking to bridge some of the (intentional) divide with the Into the Machine blog, I think the interplay between what we often call "democracy" and, in this case, surveillance - monitoring - needs to be explored further.

This USA Today article (via SmartMobs) points out how issues of injustice are brought to a global attention, through the ubiquity not of networked discussion and basic awareness, but of video devices. The article calls it "cell-veillance", but the idea of "sousveillance" (viewing from below) has been around for years.

What strikes me, though, is the association made between this sousveillance and "justice". Jeffrey Cole, in the article, states that:
"Video empowers the individual against big brother"
This is, apparently, the "era of citizen journalism".

The language of "empowerment", "citizens" and "bottom-up" (as in grass-roots, not christmas drinks...) is one familiar to practitioners of more participative, deliberative democracy. At the heart of both (and revealing the source of the overlap in lingo) is a desire to hold those with power to account, to avoid mis-use of resources and misrepresentation. The difference, then, lies in the extent to which we, as individuals, relate not just to each other, but to ourselves. There is a difference between being merely a publisher - being in the right place at the right time, and pushing information out - and being a participant.

In participation there is feedback. There is understanding through debate, agreement and, most of all, disagreement. But furthermore from a policy perspective, there is also often a result. Not only (one hopes) do people come to a mutual decision or viewpoint, but also there is opportunity for a more reflective, more reflexive process wherein the nature of the debate itself can be extended and transformed.

I am, unfortunately, a cynic however. There is far less evidence of this participation being taken up than there is of surveillance - in all of its forms - being implemented, in the UK at least. For many reasons, our fixation with CCTV and other modes of panopticism is rapidly becoming embedded as a cultural value, a symbol of our isolation and dependency on technology as a solution rather than a facilitator. From a "grass-roots" perspective, this is very much "fire to fight fire".

This is not to say that electronic deliberation and distributed surveillance are, necessarily, mutually exclusive, by any means. However, the modern human is a fickle and busy creature, and the issue of personal responsibility to society (in contrast to Blair's re-definition of the "social contract") is one in which many people now seem content to avoid. Much, if not all, of the ideas surrounding the on-line reconstruction of society are centred on how to attract and keep people's attention.

Video's are being used more and more in matters of discussion - although generally for either attention grabbing or for structured input. But how should the "divide" between video as "content" and video as "surveillance" be addressed? Should there be greater integration between our surveillance systems and our debate systems (hmm, can't find a link to the town showing CCTV footage on a local public TV channel now...), such that we have the chance to discuss events with some context? Or does this risk establishing more surveillance as a "legitimate" mode of self-governance? There are, after all, still many places that rely on CCTV as only a disuasive tool rather than as "evidence". Or, indeed, that don't rely on it at all.

This post is getting quite long now, so I'll wrap it up and maybe continue some thoughts in another post. The main point, from this blog's perspective, is that while there are many efforts to engage with ordinary people in the political sphere, we should also recognise that this is not an isolated effort, and that "openness" and engagement can at the same time come from quite different (and, in many minds, more "cost-effective") tools. Rolling the more "voyeuristic" tendencies of people into discussions may not be so "ethically" grounded, but can it offer a path to increased interest in discussion?

Comments and criticism welcomed, indeed encouraged...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Profiles vs Blankets

Gah, haven't managed to get back to those posts I promised yet - they're planned, in the draft stage, but - y'know, time and all that.

However, thought I'd post following an FT article on web 2.0 networks (subscription required, hoom), which possibly gives the most focused account of what this upgrade supposedly entails that I've seen yet (after the AJAX/UGC/Yadda confusion kicked off).

In true market-oriented fashion, the concentration this time round is on how to sell to the people using these services. Just as people were working out how to make money from the Internet 10 years ago, now they're trying to work it all out again - that is, what's left over now that the real money is made from providing the service in the first place...

The article gets a little muddled here, and flip-flops between service provision, and viral marketing as in tapping-into-social-network-influences. But it does serve to highlight the shift in communications that's occurring, and which organisations, including political ones (as traders in attention), are trying to get a handle on.

From a business point of view, marketing could be set (says the article) to become much more personalised, and more flexible - that is, more rapidly adjustable to the whims of modern culture and modern individuals. "Public Profiles" make information available that previously had to be assumed or inferred, and act as a "grease" for coupling, indicators for potential hook-ups and, hence, potential sales too.

Whether this will be taken advantage of from a political stance, though, remains to be seen. Is there a line in terms of communication (personal contact vs blanket broadcast) that still separates the political party from the commercial business?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Friday Slashdot Linksponge

Hum. As so often occurs, the frenzy of real life has intervened in the good intentions of a new blog. Curse you, limited waking hours and overdue bureaucracy! Anyway.

Back to the themes I wanted to elaborate upon from my last post in the near future. In the meantime, here are some links via Slashdot with appropriate commentary, to keep the RSS Ping monster satisfied...
  • A Business Week article on "Digital Mudslinging" and politics on the Internet reminds me of McLuhan's notion that "the medium is the message". These days, it seems more likely that elections are decided by the impulse of the electorate - whoever manages to lodge themselves in the goldfish-like memories of the fickle masses wins. One can imagine quite easily this leading to an eBay-style "attention sniping" race, to see who can "inject" the final, viral piece of mockery into the population at the latest moment. Maybe Flashverts can help here...

  • An interview with Berners-Lee regarding a new initiative called "Web Science". This is, in effect, an attempt to define a new field of study - an attempt which is intriguing, as I can't work out if this is either an attempt to construct a new space, or just the naming of an emergent space - I would guess the latter, though. Anyway, there are some very interesting ideas in here that I need to return to - the idea of fractal society (or, rather, a fractal technosociety - society itself has always been fractal).

    Particularly thought-provoking for me is the distinction between "web" sociality and "non-web" sociality. Defining disciplines is always problematic in terms of ignoring the links between a discipline and its surroundings. The article mentions that "they want to bring together lots of different disciplines", but it makes it sound like this is just as a way of understanding, or modelling web sociality.

  • Finally, while I don't particularly wish to focus here so much on electronic voting, an article on Diebold attacking an HBO programme is kind of interesting. I'm not in America, obviously, but I get the impression that public discussion over the transparency, security and reliability of electronic voting really hasn't taken place as much as it could have done. (Same with, for example, postal voting in the UK...)

    The question here, then, is whether TV programmes that bring more of said discussion to the table should be encouraged - even if potentially subject to the hype that TV often entails - in order to get the issue raised more, or whether the issue should be treated with censorship and legal pressures.

    Personally, I suspect it's currently a no-win situation. Neither clamping down nor hyped TV programmes particularly encourage further, non-"celebritised" debate. Diebold, following business interests, would probably prefer a quieter scene as, just like everyone else, they're ultimately acting in their own (financial) interest.
That'll do for today. Hopefully some time next week I'll get back to the effects of Web 2.0 and the death of a "public" Internet, etc. Enjoy your weekend :)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Changes in the Communication Landscape - Part 1

I was debating in my head whether to put this here or elsewhere, but as a) it deals with issues introduced in the previous post, and b) concerns the "hyper"-fragmentation of the public sphere that one could say the Internet produced, I think this is the right place. In many ways, it's simply the extension of the last post and so the link isn't so important. I should also, then, warn you now that this is a post "to be continued..." There are a number of points that I want to take up, and I think it's only fair to break them up into several posts, rather than provide one extra-large one. As such, this one serves as an introduction, while the next few will pick out some more specific implications over the next few days (hopfully).

Discussion with David and a report describing Web2.0 as a "catch-all buzzword that people use to describe a wide range of online activities and applications" provided the initial impetus, nonetheless. I've also been reading some Baudrillard which has got me thinking along lines of simulation, replacement, power defining itself in terms of its own death, etc.

So the last post started getting into the attitude that accompanies a drive towards "revolution". Or, indeed, the attitude that is the struggle for re-invention that ends up being defined as "Web2.0" - and it's this hope for re-invention, this determination to detach "our"selves from the problems created over the past couple of decades, that confuses the issue of defining just what "Web2.0" is.

But now I wonder if the "problem"* of Web2.0 itself is larger even than that - larger than just creating a confusing border between "old" and "new". At this point, though, I don't believe it's a coincidence that the issue is emerging just at the same point in time that debate over both new forms of network neutrality and independent networks is reaching a potentially critical stage.

The fundamental thread that ties the two together - along with many other aspects of modern computing and networking - is that the Internet is maturing rapidly. It has reached a point of no-return in terms of usage, and in terms (more importantly) of dependence on it - and both Web2.0 and a move towards differentiated control recognise the fact that we need to find new ways of managing the sheer volume of "Net".

It is at this point that we need to consider the implications for what we hazily refer to as the "public sphere". For all the cries of its death and the bitter mutterings of web developers around the world (myself included ;), the technical "immaturity" of whatever Web1.0 was meant that it was hackable to the many. It could perhaps be said that the ability for browsers to display horrible, munged-up code meant that you didn't have to get too technical to get a web presence and, as such, 98% of those interested could knock something together in some sense. Simple web-hosting (often via an ISP) gave a bog-standard - and hence highly flexible - space for these creations to come to life. This amateurishness was one extreme of the "hyperfragmentation" of the public sphere mentioned above - the sudden possibility that anyone could publish whatever they liked, even if it looked crap and didn't parse. And it was this same sloppiness that led to many others (myself included) getting extremely excited about the possibilities this new technology could offer.

So now we need to compare that to the Internet we're creating today. The evolution and maturation developed from this initial slapdash approach has, in my view, led to an extremely different kind of participation. That's not to say it's any better or worse, but the fact that it's different may mean that we need to re-assess what we believe to be possible, and what we think is currently occuring. But I should emphasise that it's this maturation - not new technology - that we need to take as the context for this.

I think this is a good place for a break. I hope that the next couple of posts will deal (again ;) with the separation and expectations of Web1.0 and 2.0 in this context, as well as the control over the kind of communication we, as our "own" little spheres, engage in.

* "Problem" is one perspective, but in reality, "evolution" is probably a better, less-biased term.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tech Race against the Masses

(Hmm, the Blogger wysiwyg editor might have screwed the formatting on this one up a little. Will post and find out... ;)

David Wilcox has done a great job recently of explaining the importance of new social tools, and at the same time noting the confusion around "them". I put "them" in quotes as it really refers to a culture, or even a vision that draws a distinction and defines "a new sort of digital divide", as David puts it.

This got me thinking a bit about the role that "we" as techno-chasers have, and reminded me that Language is Power. Why do we define things as "Web2.0"? Why are we so keen to engage entire communities, nay entire populations with "radically" different concepts and technologies? Who do such definitions serve and, more importantly, what do they mean to everyone else?

David mentions "Silicon Snakeoil", but I think the current trend encompasses more than mere snakeoil - I think a lot of the "new-tech" posturing comes about from a real desire to see change, an attitude and approach to politics from an extreme problem-solving point of view. That is, "we" define terms such as "Web2.0" and "e-citizen" to:

a) provide some continuity between the "old" and the "new" - the Web in one case, and what it is to be a citizen, in the other.

b) simultaneously set a "breakpoint" that declares a boundary, and claims that what we're doing right now is fundamentally "different" somehow and therefore "better". This is, of course, partly motivated by a keen desire to appear as "worth something" - an important point when getting paid...

But this suffers. For firstly, as David points out, it's very difficult to define exactly what we mean here - what is the difference between old and new? One could say, instead, that the difference is more hope than reality, more a teleological drive for a new country than an actual identification of a shift in how the world works. This, I think, is where the "hype" comes from.

Secondly, the terms are defined within a subculture. The biggest problem I see is that this "hope" is being exported into a "wider" culture that doesn't necessarily understand, or even need to understand the same point of view that the subculture sees. In other words, why should I become an e-citizen, rather than, say, simply a citizen that happens to use the technology around them. Do I care if my local council use "Web2.0" technologies when I didn't really realise there was a Web 1.0? Thus, by attributing a name to what we see as the "future", there's also some possibilty that people will be put off as well.

Capitalism has seen some considerable success in getting people accustomed to change - but onyl so long as they don't have to do anything. Buy, use, upgrade, repeat. So far, this has translated relatively well into one-line technologies (central servers make things easier, although areas such as firmware and security updates are still "slow" in comparison). But politics is about participation. As such, we should be asking whether enforcing rapid, radical change upon people in order for them to participate is necessary to "reclaiming" politics. In parallel, then, we should also be asking what effect on the non-subcultured, non-"2.0" populace we are having by declaring that everything's changed, and that we need to change in order to remain citizens.

That's not to say we should revert to some pre-internet Athenian-style form of debate, of course. It just seems, sometimes, that we can be so fixated upon clearing away the "old" (off-line discourse, and now Web 1.0)  and re-inventing the "new" from the ground up, that it's easy to forget that people will usually quite happily put up with defects in the mechanism if it lets them focus their energies on the issues that matter to them.

Where do we draw the line between improving the infrastructure, and getting some real work done? ;)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

And so it begins...

So this is my latest blog, "Sphereless". After some thought, the name came out of some work I was doing a few months ago for a Masters dissertation, which concentrated on Habermas' idea of the public sphere - one of the questions raised in particular was whether we are partaking in such a sphere, or whether a single domain has given way to a multitude of smaller, isolated sphere. Or, alternatively (there's always a third way) that sphere just doesn't exist at all.

Then I was reminded of a collection of Foucault speeches on parrhesia called "Fearless Speech". One spoonerism, and dropping the "Feech" bit, and "Sphereless" came about. It seemed to fit with the idea - or the question - that we need to reconsider what we consider the "public" in an age of personalised, yet networked technology, and indeed perhaps it should really be read as "Sphereless?", question mark and all.

So there's the name. What about content? Well, I finally decided to 'fork' out this theme - politics, the "public" and technology - as its own distinct "thread" for a few reasons. Firstly, as a place to focus, direct and explore my own thoughts and observations on it. This aspect is becoming, I think, increasingly more important as I head into a 3-year programme of studying such things (yay for Academic Bloggers). Secondly, I think there are some really important and, most of all, under-examined trends and progressions being made in this relatively fuzzy of areas. And by giving the subject its own "space", not only does it make it easier for others interested in the theme to follow, but perhaps it also lends an air of "gravity" to the whole field as well.

Oh, and thirdly, I wanted to play with Google's new beta blog stuff :) You'll have to forgive me this indulgence if you're viewing on browsers other than Firefox and IE - the beta Blogger homepage notes they're still working out some kinks. I'll hopefully give it a decent test in some non-standard browsers to see what's going on anyway (plus get round to changing the "out of the box" design at some point, too).

Anyway. That's an introduction. Posts to follow...