Obligatory Google Buzz post

Cross-posted to the Air-l list.

In a discussion about Google Buzz, surveillance and privacy, Christian Fuchs said:

Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently remarked about Internet privacy: “If
you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you should
not be doing it in the first place”, which points towards a lack of
understanding of the online surveillance threat and privacy issues.

[He really did: see here]

Absolutely, and there is something more to this jaw-droppingly blasé statement as well. I don’t think it’s only a result of Google’s desire to facilitate and track and cross-aggregate everything everyone does on the internet ever (which is clearly the manifest destiny of Google, and several others).

We also had this today in the WSJ:

After taking steps to stem the public backlash against its social-networking service Buzz, Google Inc. is planning further updates and considering changing how it tests new Buzz features.
 
Google product manager Todd Jackson said in an interview Monday that the number of people initially uncomfortable with the service underscored that the company’s approach of testing Buzz among its employees hasn’t been sufficient.”

“Getting feedback from 20,000 Googlers isn’t quite the same as letting Gmail users play with Buzz in the wild,” Mr. Jackson said. “We needed to launch to the public and get feedback from users.”

Um…

(Thanks to Michael Zimmer for tweeting the link)

As various commenters have pointed out elsewhere, Google’s apparent “lack of understanding” of the threats to privacy has an identity politics as well. At least in my head (and tell me if I’m crazy), the ideal, undifferentiated internet user says: “I mean, I live my life online and it’s fine. I don’t care who knows which Starbucks I’m using my Blackberry at or which of my business contacts I compare Geek 2.0 conferences with or what Business 2.0 book I’m buying.” All very obvious – the assumed, unrecognised privilege that goes with a certain class position, geographically myopic worldview despite the desire for global colonisation, and so on.

But this assumption of a universal ‘we'; the complete carelessness about the idea that public exposure can do harm; the shrugging off of the social complexity of social media, and so on, also have a gender politics.  In some of the *critique* of Googlebookspacetube, so does a similar shrugging off of the messy mix of pleasure, affinity, and risk of social media participation; and indeed the insistent bracketing off of concrete lived experiences, so we can get at the main game: Economics. The World. History. Everything.

But back to Buzz. Most obviously, as the widely circulated (but now password-protected) “Fuck You, Google” blog post on the Fugitivus blog so clearly demonstrated, even in the affluent West, if you have ever had a stalker, an abusive ex- or current partner, or live in a community/family where it might not be safe to be outed as gay, there are plenty of things you might not want people to know you’re saying or doing. It doesn’t mean you “should stop doing them” – or saying them – on the Internet.

What would a social media platform look like if it listened carefully from the beginning to what users are actually doing with the platform –  collectively constructing a wide and often overlapping range of uses, communities, etc., including a nuanced set of publicity/privacy settings. What if the provider provided the tools to do that, and didn’t come crashing in in the middle of the night to redesign everything and randomly release ‘features’ that have no obvious relationship to the practices of users? 

To finish by returning to the subject of business if not capital-E Economics:

I understand that there is actually no business case for blanket privacy in the free-to-use, advertising-supported business model that drives Google, Facebook, and Twitter (indirectly), but I’m not sure there isn’t a business model (where “business model” might or might not include a profit motive) that could work quite well and treat user communities with more respect – including respect for the knowledge and expertise they have developed through their work as users. I still think Flickr had it more or less right in some ways (especially in the areas of privacy settings and community governance) – but theirs is a Freemium business model (where you have a choice of a fairly full-featured free account, or a paid ‘power’ account).

I genuinely mean this as a devil’s advocate question: given the helplessness of users in a free-to-use model, are we better off as customers than we are as users? How might we ask to be addressed as citizens as well, or instead?

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Flussgeist & ambient intimacy

I’ve been playing around with various twitter mashups, tools and toys lately, and I just had to give this one a quick mention.

Unusually for me, I am about to talk about some art…

Gregory Chatonsky’s work L’attente/The Waiting (warning, Flash-heavy), part of a series called “Flußgeist”, the “spirit of the flow”, mashes up twitter posts with Flickr photos whose tags match keywords in the tweets, along with an ambient soundtrack (pulling in data from Odeo) and video footage of urban pedestrians waiting at the lights, lost in thought, walking, or just standing around.

The overall effect is quiet and beautiful, of course, and it’s a nice comment on the ambient intimacy we are learning to associate with twitter. I think it is also doing something in the way of reflecting on the very different ways of being together-but-apart that the experience of sharing space in cities brings with it – the intimacy of strangers, maybe; it invites us to consider the slight frisson associated with observing the ‘private’ moments of others in a ‘public’ place. The ‘private’ (or personal) and the ‘public’ are of course precisely what is being reconfigured through social media. More importantly, as Melissa points out, the uses and meanings of particular social media platforms, and the social practices that are associated with them, are emerging via the mass popularisation – the large-scale takeup – of social media, and not as a simple consequence of the invention of new things – platforms, widgets and gizmos. That’s why we won’t simply see ‘migrations’ from one platform to another; facebook is not myspace is not twitter.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that we can’t know what Twitter, as a relatively open and underdetermined platform, but one that is at this stage used by a relatively ‘niche’ population, will turn out to be ‘for’ in the end.

And a note to self more than anything: the mashing up of video footage from the street with twitter posts also reminds me to be very careful about how I interpret things. I will try with renewed vigour to remember how cheap and unproductive it is to simply import categories and metaphors derived from existing cultural and social theories developed to understand social life in modernity (the ‘flaneur’, the ‘voyeur’, the ‘narcissist’) to think about the relationships and practices that emerge via the collective use of each new social media platform. We have to look as hard as we can at what really seems to be going on, as ‘new’ practices emerge and ‘old’ ones are remediated.

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The Street as Platform (and the World as ‘Human Network’)

When as now I’m struggling with the agony of trying to write for publication, which means attempting to communicate carefully and clearly, and not unattractively (as opposed to ranting inadvisedly), encountering one of Dan Hill’s longer blog entries is without exception guaranteed to make me ever so slightly envious.

The way the street feels may soon be defined by what cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Imagine film of a normal street right now, a relatively busy crossroads at 9AM taken from a vantage point high above the street, looking down at an angle as if from a CCTV camera. We can see several buildings, a dozen cars, and quite a few people, pavements
dotted with street furniture.

Freeze the frame, and scrub the film backwards and forwards a little, observing the physical activity on the street. But what can’t we see?

—-

We can’t see how the street is immersed in a twitching, pulsing cloud of data. This is over and above the well-established electromagnetic radiation, crackles of static, radio waves conveying radio and television broadcasts in digital and analogue forms, police voice traffic. This is a new kind of data, collective and individual, aggregated and discrete, open and closed, constantly logging impossibly detailed patterns of behaviour. The behaviour of the street.

This is a lovely essay (with great images) that asks us to imagine the now-future city, and to mentally re-assemble what we already knew was there so that the street is (I think literally) understood as a platform. Dan then asks some good questions about the implications of that re-envisioning for governance and regulation. Even if it’s a metaphor, it’s an effective one.

Although the “yes, but” question about who is connected and the unevenness of agency of course comes to mind, along with the slightly panicky one, “But how do you turn it all off?”

Worth a read.

Update: Not two minutes after I finished this post, Luca twittered the new Cisco ad.

Wow, kind of contrasting invitations to imagine the future, there.

I guess if we don’t want to deal with the micro-politics of our everyday relationships to technology, as Dan describes, there’s always techno-utopias that manage to render technologies all-powerful, endlessly imprintable with benign human desires, and invisible, all at once. Magic.

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Why I’m deleting my Facebook account

Update: 31 May 2010

This is by far the most visited post on my now-sleepy blog. It is also more than two years old.

A lot of people are finding this post by searching Google for other people who are thinking about leaving Facebook. This is understandable given the recent surge of discontent among the FB community. However judging by the comments there is a certain level of confusion caused by the the gap of more than two years between this blog entry and the current Facebook revolt.

In the interests of clarity I provide the following FAQ.

1. Is this a place for me to explain to Mark Zuckerberg why I am deleting my facebook account?
No.
That is, given this is the personal blog of an Australian academic, he probably won’t read your comment, but feel free to vent if you like.

2. Did you know you CAN actually delete your facebook account?

Yes, this is a change that has occurred during the more than two years since this post. Since this post, I have succeeded in completely deleting my account. I think.

————–

I know the zombies and pirates will be sad and my virtual garden/fish/panda will die, but I’m leaving Facebook. I swear it’s not a case of getting early adopter syndrome. Trust me, given my background in subculture theory, I have workshopped that one.

It’s complicated and potentially long-winded, so in a nutshell, I have both professional and personal reasons.

1. Facebook is an excellent example of worst practice in almost every aspect of how to run and manage an online social network, and as someone who ostensibly believes there are good and bad ways to do those things, I don’t want to be part of it anymore.

2. Too many worlds colliding, too many invites to vampire garden pirate fishtank zombie kissing applications, and yes, I ended up with kind of too many friends from too many different spheres of my existence (not that I don’t love them all, really) for it to be non-complicated and fun.

Which is fine, and mostly my own fault, I can just log in less frequently, right? Apart from all the obvious problems with that (ignoring friend’s requests and messages and birthdays?), when I started toying with the idea of leaving I had this thought: “Sigh. I can’t leave. Everyone I know is on there and increasingly organising events through the events application, and…”

Whoa, what? I CAN’T LEAVE a commercial service that I never thought was super awesome in the first place and now I’m sick of BECAUSE MY SOCIAL WORLD IS STARTING TO DEPEND ON IT???

Right.

So the only way to reclaim my capacity to act is to engage in the politics of refusal, which I usually think of as pretty much an expression of impotence. Which makes me even more angry.

OK, so to be a bit more rational, here are just a few of the areas in which Facebook takes the prize for worst practice.

1. I’m not the first to say this, but yes, Facebook is the antithesis of the concept of openness.

2. The Terms of Service Use are a triumph of Kafkaesque surrealism and nasty, mean, trickery.

3. Almost every means at the user’s disposal to make their experience of the site safer, more socially comfortable, and less irritating (turning off notifications, making certain content visible to certain friends, making your profile invisible to Google searches, etc) requires effort and knowledge on the user’s behalf. Which is one among many symptoms of utter contempt for the users. See 4.

4. Did I mention the Terms of Use?

5. Oh, and even though Tom Hodgkinson clearly doesn’t respect the unwashed masses any more than the company does and generally thinks the interwebs are a waste of time, according to him it might also be run by an evil neoconservative conspiracy. Which would explain 1, 2, 3, and 4, and gives me little hope that user activism will ever make a bit of difference.

Anyway, there’s always a straw that broke the camel’s back. In my case, it came when an older member of my close family rang me for info and advice about how to ‘get onto’ Facebook, because other family members were sharing photos and news there, which anyone not using Facebook was missing out on.

The longer I talked about what people use Facebook for, and how to manage friends and privacy and tried to answer questions about why Facebook needed your date of birth, and whether ‘they’d send all kinds of junk emails’, the more uneasy I felt. It wasn’t anything like the many, many ‘how to use email’ or ‘what you can do with the Internet’ or ‘how to edit your digital photos’ conversations I’d had with family members and older friends and acquaintances before. So that’s when I started thinking about leaving.

Oh, and by the way, in order to delete your Facebook account, apparently, you have to not only deactivate it, but also delete every single item you have contributed to the site (messages, wall posts, posts other people have written on your wall, photos, links to contacts, profile information) and then email customer service and request they delete your account completely. Oh, and also, in order to delete absolutely everything, I’d also have to re-add every single one of the applications I’ve ever had installed, and then go through and remove the content, and then delete the applications again. Because when you delete an application, guess what? Your data is still stored there somewhere.

That’s not just meanness, but I’m pretty sure it’s also not just to be helpful in case you’re quitting in a fit of pique like this one and might decide later that you want to come back. It’s also because of the way the business model works: Facebook and all the marketeers who sail in her pretty much just want you to visit as many ad-bearing pages per visit as possible (that’s what all those applications and invites are for), and having lost your eyeballs, they’d quite like to keep the data that can be mined from those activities. So they’re going to make it as difficult as possible to scrub that data out of the system. Can you guess how much that softens my heart toward the company?

This is all very obvious of course, and absolutely non-unique, I know that. It’s just I’m not willing to put up with it anymore in this particular case.

So off I go digging little tiny pieces of content out of my account until it’s all clean again. It will be gone by this time tomorrow.

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further to the myspace/facebook class debate

further to the myspace/facebook class debate

Ah, the La Boite Theatre (which by the way has a kind of populist/grass-roots brand image but is situated in the hyper-modernist, rational and shiny Creative Industries Precinct here at QUT). Perhaps we should applaud them for doing their bit to keep MySpace bourgeios.

But then again, first an iPod on the cover of their 2007 season brochure, and now this – which may create some tensions, because are they really like a Mac (seamlessly, transparently usable, white, and fun, but with “no user-seviceable parts inside”)? or are they more like a home-built PC (ubiquitous, kludgy, hackable, and dripping with DIY authenticity)? Of course my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek, because I think to the La Boite folks, as for most people, the ipod and myspace signify roughly the same thing – something like “the digital generation”. And to most people, the differences between MySpace and Facebook are about as big as the differences between, say, emo and goth to my grandma.

Quite seriously, I am very glad to see discussions of the ways in which cultural “tastes”, and constructions of what counts as usability (which has serious implications for what counts as literacy), being discussed in relation to social networks.

If you haven’t already, see danah boyd’s piece and the AoIR and iDC lists for the actual discussion about Facebook, MySpace, and class (in the Bourdieu-ian sense).

And I was especially impressed with this post to the AoIR list by (soon-to-be colleague) Jason Wilson:

One of the central arguments in the work is that “taste” and cultural preferences mediate class distinctions, that taste is one of the primary ways in which class distance and membership are asserted. This informs my belief that design, “usability” and the contexts of social networking are never neutral, and are always inflected by issues around class (among others). I guess that for me, the problematic assumption would be that social networking, and the selection of an SNS, could take place in a way that somehow evaded, or was innocent of all of this.

Why would I think of this specifically in relation to MySpace vs. Facebook? Well, to amplify on an earlier example, I think that the ways in which the two services can be personalised appeal to different taste formations. The often-“gaudy” nature of MySpace personalisation, arising from users’ ability to insert large amounts of HTML into their profiles to create background images etc. presents a contrast with the essentially “modular” personalisation available with Facebook profiles, where users select from a range of options which do not disturb the given, “clean” colour schemes and layouts of Facebook profiles. The Facebook interface strikes me as very “designerly” – it is reminiscent to me in its look and feel of an OSX application, with all that connotes in terms of “funky”/creative professions, the blurring of work and/in play, and discernment (think of the Mac vs. PC ad campaigns). The use of whitespace, drop-down menus and a very “Web 2.0″ set of icons allow it to be read as uncluttered, fresh and efficient. Personalisation for many Facebook users takes place by way of deferring to the expert knowledges of application designers. By contrast, MySpace personalisations often seem inexpert, distracting, ungainly – in short amateur, even where the “pimping” is outsourced. Coincidentally, both Danah Boyd and I (me in my blog post on the 22nd) are drawn to the metaphor of/comparison with Swedish furniture stores and their emphasis on modularity and design in thinking about Facebook. There are visual rhetorics in Facebook’s presentation that connote a restrained minimalism which is not avant-garde but rational and “tasteful”. This observation chimes with the excitement of those marketing high-end consumer goods about getting access Facebook’s “elite” user base. Facebook’s aesthetic of personalisation appeals to a certain kind of networked, linked-in, design-aware, educated, “mature” (non-emo :-) ) subject, in part because of the “distancing” it offers from messy old MySpace, which begins, by contrast, to resemble the chaos of a teenager’s bedroom wall. In this sense, I think we can talk about class in relation to the design interface.

There’s also an earlier blog post by Jason where he quite provocatively talks about the migration to Facebook as a kind of aspirational, rather than defensive, “white flight”.

If I could throw something else into the mix, all of this discussion about the link between aesthetic norms, constructions of usability (and ‘hackability’), and so on brings to mind the differences between Flickr and YouTube. Apples and oranges, certainly, but perhaps no more so than the MySpace/Facebook comparison. Like Facebook, Flickr’s interface is white, “usable” and vaguely mac-like, and like Facebook, its norms of participation, design and community behaviour were established by a fairly elite subculture early on, but unlike Facebook, Flickr has held onto a reasonably coherent demographic and a reasonably stable “culture”, as far as I can tell. On the other hand, like MySpace, YouTube looks like a chaotic, “tasteless” free-for-all to an eye schooled in middle-class mores and tastes, not to mention the dominant construction of usability that structures the discourses of the “digerati“. But it is also genuinely popular in all senses of that rich and problematic term, and is emerging as a genuine “mass” medium where vernacular creativity and “big media” swim around in the same mix. What’s in YouTube’s immediate and distant future as far as that all goes is another matter entirely.

I wrote about this (sort of) in my AoIR paper on Flickr last year. There’s a lot more of it in my thesis, organised around the dynamics of “usability”, “hackability” and “playability”. I’ll post a copy of that online eventually, but email me if you’re keen to see it earlier.

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Community responses to changes at YouTube

In my last post, I discussed YouTube’s roll-out of language options and localization, and aired some concerns I have about its cultural implications.

This morning I had a quick look to see how the YouTube community has responded to the move. I’m a bit surprised there isn’t more discussion, celebration, or protest than there is, actually. Especially compared with how intensely the Flickr community debates and discusses even the finest points of changes that are implemented at the site – which speaks to the quite distinctive ‘cultures’ emerging in each of these social networks.

In fact, at YouTube there is just as much protest over another major change that came with the recent redesign: the disappearance of YouTube’s content categories as a browsing option from the front page. And apparently, in typical YouTube fashion, this was done in the “middle of the night”, without forewarning or consultation. CapnOAwesome, for example, seems most concerned about how anyone will find stumble across quality content from the long tail without the invitation to browse categories:

I haven’t found anything like the same amount of discussion of the language and localization issue. But I found a few interesting things.

The dominant line of complaint could be summed up as, “Dude, where’s my country????” – involving mainly people from English-speaking countries who not only resent having to be lumped in with either the US or the UK (which was my first reaction too), but also feel moved to demand a version of YouTube localised for their own countries. Namely, Australia and Canada. See this one and this one:

[link]

These simplistic posts are drawing interesting comments, though:

If they wanted YT to truly be a global experience, they would have just added a language feature so you don’t just have to understand english to fully enjoy it.

That’s what I reckon too. But Ars Technica explains the probable motivation behind this whole thing:

localized versions of the main site might split up the otherwise unified community of YouTube, but will also help the company strike deals with smaller, local content providers and offer more targeted videos to its users.

Even the YouTube blog entry appears to me to be quite confused about the difference “countries” and “languages”.

Meanwhile, BadAlbert (from the UK) is not happy about the “splitting up of the YouTube empire” into “provinces”, and wants to know what the (f**king) point is anyway, if YouTube is not a “global medium”:

US resident Elaina43 obects to the ubiquitous “little flags” at the top of the page, and says she “doesn’t want to be reminded” constantly that she’s in the US, and that furthermore, the presence of the flag makes her feel as though she’s being commanded, “be patriotic! be patriotic! be patriotic!”:

I would love some help with this little investigation: ironically, the only language I speak well enough to understand what people are saying in their vlog posts is English – so I’d love to hear from any Dutch, French, Spanish, Brazilian/Portugese, Polish or Japanese-speaking readers out there who might have come across different points of view. And does anyone have an inside track on what might be going on with Germany or China?

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Localisation, YouTube and Flickr

Via BigMouth Media – well, actually via late-night YouTube browsing, followed by the now-familiar exclamation “Oh, look, YouTube’s changed something (in the middle of the night) again!”:

YouTube has released localised versions of its video sharing website in nine countries around the world. The countries that are getting the special treatment are Brazil, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the UK.

The sites are fully translated into the home country’s major language and offer content more specific to the user’s locale. The specific sites also return search results that are deemed more relevant to the user based on where they are in the world. According to YouTube’s official blog, users will also be able to look forward to country-specific video rankings and comments in the future.

I only noticed because the top right-hand corner of my YouTube page appeared to have suddenly sprouted a little US flag. Naturally my first instinct was to race with all possible speed for the drop-down box to get rid of it and replace it with something else. Because the US flag as the symbol for “I speak English” is one of my pet peeves. Of course, unless I want to finally get around to learning French, Polish or Japanese, my only other option for now is to pretend to be British.

More seriously, I’m ecstatic there are non-English language options, but concerned about what the impacts of Google-style ‘localisation’ of search results might be on the development of an open, cosmopolitan and networked public sphere.

First, it’s entirely possible that too much personalisation and customisation and localisation is actually a bad thing for the development of cosmopolitan cultural citizenship and for cultural innovation. Culturally-relevant content for citizens of countries outside the US is one thing. But to look at it the other way round, the last thing anyone should want is for US-centric content to dominate the YouTube experience of US residents even more than is the case already. We’ll see how it plays out, I suppose.

Second, YouTube’s twitchy behaviour and tenuous relationships with local governments has a slighly chilling effect on the warm, neighbourly glow that ‘localisation’ is meant to provoke.

From Wired-in Terrence Russell:

Even with the new sites, international users will still have access to the original site, as well as all the others. “It is not that we want to limit content by geography,” YouTube’s International Manager, Sakina Arsiwala told Reuters. “Right now, the content will be available to everyone, unless the (media) partner specifies otherwise.”

Well, maybe.

Which brings to mind the tangles and heartache caused by the localisation of Yahoo! and the subsequent filtering of Flickr content viewed from Germany, Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong. The policies are being almost hysterically condemned as ‘censorship’ by some Flickr users. Interestingly, most of the protest seems to be focused around the impacts on German users. I haven’t been as immersed in the issue as I would have been a few months back, but it doesn’t take long to see it’s clearly a complicated and fraught issue. And it’s not going to go away. I wonder how a YouTube localised for Germany will look?

[update] From the horse’s mouth via the YouTube blog:

As these sites evolve, so will your localized YouTube experience, including country-specific video rankings, comments and browse pages – all while being just one click away from the worldwide view.

[…]

We’re extremely excited to be offering YouTube in the languages of so many of our users, since it allows people to express themselves and unite around interesting, relevant videos. We’re looking forward to seeing communities develop between people in their local communities as well as among people around the world. We can’t wait to experience more original content and interesting genres of content in different languages on the site.

Clearly, the language options are a very good thing. But I still don’t see why country-specific content is any more an aid to the development of communities of interest than are keywords, groups and so on. An aid to targeted advertising and content filtering though, certainly.

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more on conferencing twittering

In the ‘questions and comments’ section of the final plenary at MIT5, David Silver made two comments about how the conference might be improved next time. He presented us with two problems:

1. The incongruity of the conference theme and the conference format. That is, should a conference that was investigating collaborative forms of cultural production and questioning the figures of the cultural ‘expert’ and the author be organised around the traditional ‘sage on the stage’ model of discourse, or should it become more like the thing it studies?

2. Taking advantage of the free wireless, the ‘audience’ was twittering, blogging and surfing too much during sessions and suffering from continuous partial attention, and maybe we needed to learn how to unplug.

Leaving aside the fact that being ‘plugged in’ and in a state of ‘continuous partial attention’ seems an entirely apt description of any good conference I’ve ever been to…

It seemed quite clear to me that the second ‘problem’ is an emergent and entirely rational response to the first one as well as an instantiation of precisely the kinds of ‘media transformation’ we were all busy discussing, describing and questioning. As far as I could see over people’s shoulders, and certainly in my own case, most of the time the twitterers were using their laptops and the internet to annotate, share, get background on, critique, and fact-check the papers they were listening to – and yes, they were also sometimes ‘playing around’ and socialising.

So as far as I’m concerned, on the one hand conferencing twittering, IM-ing, surfing and blogging is a user-led innovation that *amplifies* what is good about an academic conference – massive downloads of information, the collision of perspectives, and the intensive social engagement. On the other, such behaviour represents a material critique of what is not so great – the parallel sessions, the non-interactivity, and the dominance of particular top-down modes of engagement.

Of course, as with any emergent phenomenon, the ethics and most effective applications of these practices are still being worked out, but where they get worked out is in practice.

Why am I blogging this now instead of marching down to the microphone on the day? Well, I was twitching to say all of that at the time, but had an attack of girlish shyness. Which is funny, given that the next comment was from someone (didn’t catch the name) who thought the conference might have been a bit masculinist and that we needed to think about innovative ways of creating access to voice for those who didn’t necessarily have the bravado to engage in antagonistic modes of discourse.

So what I’ve done here is to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by alternative modes of communication to respond without having to stand at the microphone with my heart beating in terror, as she did.

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Brief MIT5 update

you know you're at MIT when...

you know you’re at MIT when…


I’m enjoying the MIT5 conference immensely, although it is very distributed – both temporally, with something like 11 parallel sessions – and spatially, with rooms dotted around a few different buildings with no common meeting area (but that’s just the layout of MIT). So catching up with people really relies on micro-coordination using sms, email, IM and twitter, rather than relying on bumping into them at some big shared ‘event’.

John, Axel and I presented our panel this morning and we got some good dynamic discussion out of it. I really meant to blog much more comprehensively about the conference before now, but find I have medium-form writing fatigue after churning out so much stuff this week. But I’m interested in how much I’m communicating about the conference with people far and wide using other modes of communication.


For example, Twitter is being used by a few people at the conference, like Jill and Luca, for micro-annotation of each panel and paper. Although since my Twitter is ‘friends-only’ I tend to use it more for micro-annotating other, possibly less fascinating topics like what i’m eating, who i’m having lunch with, what software I’m mucking around with etc. So it’s interesting to encounter and contribute to all the conference-twittering while persisting with my usual use of the technology.

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Wealth of Networks Wiki

This Wiki is an invitation to collaborate on building a learning and research environment based on Yochai Benkler’s book, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, available under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial Sharealike license.

A good idea, and one that tests and amplifies the basic propositions of Benkler’s arguments. But I hope the space will also be used to generate a sustained critical dialogue around the issues raised in the book, as well as to “build a learning and research environment” based on it…

On the plan for ‘growing’ the Wiki

The basic idea is to make this Wiki a place for at least five things:

  1. Collaborate on writing a summary of the ideas and claims of the book (see Table of Contents)
  2. Collaborate on writing commentaries and elaborating and refining the presentation
  3. Provide an easy platform through which to access underlying research materials:
    *those used in the book’s notes
    *and resources that are useful for further research, refinement, and updating
  4. Describe, link to, and analyze examples of the phenomena the book describes
    *The purpose is not to “make the case” for the book or find “gotcha” counter examples. What we are trying to do is provide a real research tool, annotated bibliography, and platform for collaborative learning. Examples and counter-examples should be selected and described with that purpose in mind.
  5. Demonstrate and discover what is valuable in a learning platform
    *Through separate pages devoted to ideas and experiments of what can be done with an online book to make it a learning platform, we hope to expand the range of uses to which this Wiki can be available.
    *Through creative, systematic and interactive uses of this wiki, we hope to enhance our individual and collective skills & experience in a wiki world

There is a link from the wiki to the Crooked Timber seminar on the book, which was an early site of critical dialogue, including responses from Benkler to the contributions of participants.

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