Archive for September, 2007

New collection (your help needed)

September 30, 2007

A while ago, i posted here a few videos featuring communication technology as their main theme. Today, one of my Facebook friends posted this video, which is a remake of Enrique Iglesias’ “Hero“, adapted to the Facebook reality:

So, i decided that i would like to start collecting these videos, songs, and other cultural artifacts that mention communication technology explicitly, or even more so, make it the main theme. If you come across any, please send them over. They don’t have to be in English (though in that case i may ask for help with translation :) and there is no hard criteria for them to be super mature, or absolutely immature. To start with, anything will go.  Actually looking at the YouTube page with this video i could find a few more already, but i am sure there is much more out there.

I find the whole phenomenon really fascinating and would like to study it at some point. So, thank you in advance for anything you send!


September 28, 2007

Today i was accidentally exposed to another Cornellian tradition – buying hockey tickets.

Who could imagine that hockey tickets purchase can become an entire festival? The box office will start selling tickets tomorrow at 9:00 (AM), however tonight dozens, or maybe even hundreds of students, are already lining up for them. Here is what it looks like:

Hockey Tradition 1

Hockey Tradition 2

(sorry for the quality, the pictures were taken with a mobile phone)

This is in fact amazing. Not sure it is clear from the picture, but people brought sleeping begs, blankets, and folding chairs. Some brought studies and books, others laptops or even entire desktop computers. I could also spot a few playstations/xboxes/WIIs. There was a mobile pizza stand and some other quick food establishment inside the sport hall. BBQ was missing, but i overheard something like the students being allowed to bring in some amounts of alcohol, provided that all the members of the party are of the legal age.

But it does not end there. There are not just people sleeping all over the sports center, there is a tradition. From the little pieces i managed to gather on the spot it seems for example that they are not allowed to leave the place for an entire night. From time to time, the organizers are having random checks and if you are not answering when called, you place in line will be canceled. They literally shut the doors at 23:00 (11:00 PM) and re-open them in the morning. The whole thing looks bizarre.

The good thing is that i finally got to see Cornell mascot. The cute bear was dancing in the crowd and people were interacting with him. At some point the members of the hockey team were supposed to come to the “camping spot” to socialize with the fans. Apparently they are kind of celebs… I think one could use this unique opportunity and purchase Cornell hockey memorabilia. Finally, I also got to see Cornell marching band as it walked into the hall. I don’t really want to imagine what it was like being inside that hall with the band playing all it arsenal.

Hockey Tradition 3

What can i say? Tradition…

Media at war

September 27, 2007

One of the articles in the last issue of Newsweek dealt (surprise, surprise) with the the mysterious Israeli operation in Syria, Iranian nukes, and the potential developments in the region. One phrase particularly caught my attention:

In Iran, preparations for war are underway. “Crisis committees” have been established in each government ministry to draw up contingency plans, according to an Iranian official who asked for anonymity in order to speak freely. The regime has ordered radio and TV stations to prepare enough prerecorded programming to last for months, in case the studios are sabotaged or employees are unable to get to work.

I find the emphasis on media particularly interesting. I am probably stating the obvious, but it fascinates me how information has became inseparable part of modern warfare.

One laptop per child is changing its strategy?

September 24, 2007

“I have to some degree underestimated the difference between shaking the hand of a head of state and having a check written,” said Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the nonprofit project. “And yes, it has been a disappointment.”

This is quote from a NY Times article i bumped in following Samantha’s post on facebook. This is a bit sad and interesting at the same time. I don’t know if it was naive of Negraponte to believe that distribution through governments will work in the first place, but i don’t want to think that. I think we have to give credit to man and his vision. Maybe one has to go through the bureaucracy of working with governments before they can examine alternatives. Maybe this is a part of social structures governing our world? Or maybe i am reading too much Durkheim recently :)

So, OLPC are launching a Christmas sale where people in North America could by that laptop for four times the price ($400 instead of $100, but that is still rather cheap) and by doing that donate another one to a kid in developing country. Sounds interesting, but there was one thing that really annoyed me:

“Staff members of the laptop project were concerned that American children might try the pared-down machines and find them lacking compared to their Apple, Hewlett-Packard or Dell laptops.”

I think this indicates a bit of a hypocritical approach. On the one hand you promote development, but on the other you are doing this by offering people a second class tools? Is this how development should work? Something that is not good enough by my standards i will give to the other who in the first place has less? I don’t see why, particularly with such an innovative approach to technology and its potential role into development, this set of mind was characterizing OLCP’s team approach. I would expect them to think out of the box and actually provide that neat, cheap tool that not only wouldn’t be inferior, but would be an equal competitor to the existing, more expensive models. After all they put many years, brains, and money into developing it.

Gladly though, the studies they run among youth this summer showed that the laptops are actually perceived as cool, and i think this is the way it should have been in the first place. Originally the laptop should have been designed to be cool and good, to be a working machine.  Maybe it’s time we rethink the way we think about development in the first place.


September 24, 2007

Yesterday i replied to a Carson’s Post item that wondered if the news agencies are simply becoming high-end blogs. I was trying to make an argument that although the mainstream media are frequently relying on the grassroots information, journalism as an institution still has a role (at least i hope so). One of the foundations for this line of thought is an article published last year in “Journalism Studies” 7(4) by Zvi Reich (here is a link, but you will get the actual article if you are affiliated with a library that access to this journal). He suggests that in the current setting the journalists do not initiate information gathering, but follow leads actively pushed by their sources. However, once the lead is followed, it is more of a journalistic investigation in the traditional sense that is leveraging the institutional strength of mass media.

The interesting question in my mind is: what in fact the nature of relationships between citizens-generate content and the mainstream media is? Do people’s opinions and observation suddenly really matter?

In the same reply on Carson’s post i quoted a summary of Tremayne (2007) who tried to describe the relationships between bloggers and MSM in a systematic way. I won’t copy it here, but mention that the main point is that the bloggers do have influence on the input of MSM journalists are getting. However, one of the other people commenting on my remark suggested that the content of blogs themselves is being manufactured by the market forces thus canceling out the “grassroots” element of their input. In a way my own study together with Dor Reich (don’t think they are related with Zvi, but you can never be sure :) shows that even the individual bloggers tend to rely heavily on the MSM content, which supports the “limited autonomy” approach.

And yet today i read a Howard Kurtz’s article in “Washington Post” highlighting the role of grassroots materials in the news production these days. According to that article this phenomenon has a few components:

  1. The willingness of media to receive the content. Kurtz notes in his articles that many major media outlets are offering this days channels for individuals to submit their content. He notes Fox’s uReport, MSNBC’s FirstPerson, CNN’s I-Report, and ABC’s i-Caught. We can also add the Ynet’s “red mail”, but the idea is clear – riding the Web 2.0 hype the media are opening up for user-generated content.
  2. The responsiveness of people to actually submit content. Again, Kurtz sight some numbers such as 40K video and pictures in the first 6 month of uReport, 28K submissions to FirstPerson since April, and 60K of videos and picture to I-Report in 14 months. So people do want to share their content.
  3. The interest people find in the grassroots material. The number of views some pieces are receiving is counted in hundreds of K’s and the there are thousands subscribing to the channels offering that kind of content online.

However what this outline missing is a selection criteria, or a selection process by which the MSM decide whether to give a certain piece of grassroots material further publicity. At the end of the day the number of people consuming TV news is still much higher compared to those who acquire most of their news online. Thus the question of selection becomes an important one. Besides, linking back to the original post at Carson’s, how do MSM decide what civic story to follow up on and how? I also wonder how much of the ideas presented in Kurtz’s article are a Web 2.0 hype effect or to what degree they are signifying an emerging trend? What I think I can definitely sense is an emerging study…

Any thoughts?

Facebook apps

September 22, 2007

Yesterday i left a comment on Andy Carvin’s blog questioning the general usefulness and the good taste of Facebook apps. Today i saw that one of the people in my network joined a group titled “F#@k off… I don’t want to be a pirate/vampire/werewolf/zombie” (here is the link, but you have to have a FB account to view it). I don’t really understand why people love giving their groups necessarily rude titles (probably because they can), but what important here is the fact that there are quite a lot of people annoyed by that phenomena. This group for once has over 20K members and i am sure there are others. On the one hand, it makes me feel better – even if i am missing something about this “communicating via werewolfing” phenomenon, at least i am not alone. On the other hand, the vast majority of people on FB are gladly adopting these things and they are definitely view it differently from me or from others in that group.

Maybe i was wrong

September 18, 2007

About a year and a half ago TheMarker, an Israeli economic journal, published a short article of mine reacting to Google’s entrance to the Israeli market. One of the claims i made there was about the online advertisement market being too small to suggest a significant impact on the overall advertisement industry in Israel. Back then, the online advertisement accounted for only 5-7% of the entire advertisement industry. I will have to check this number again in light of the recent announcement of NY Times that they are dropping their paid premium services based on a calculation that keeping the content open will generate more advertisement-based income (thanks Erik for pointing that out). Although Vivian Schiller, the Web site’s Vice President and General Manager, refused to expose the exact estimations, giving up US $10 million a year generated through the subscribed services is an interesting indicator. Of course I am still missing many numbers, and $10 million is not such a big figure in the advertising industry standards, but I can’t help but wondering, if i haven’t been too pessimistic about that in the first place.

Reading Marx

September 17, 2007

I am reading a couple of chapters from “Capital” for Tarleton’s “foundations” class. This is actually the first time i am dealing with the original (well translated) version of Marx’s writing after hearing and studying so many references. So far I got some comments just for the first chapter of vol. 1, which deals with the concept of value.

If my reading of Marx is correct it all boils down to human labor. Commodities are exchangeable at a ratio based on the amount of work put in their production. He is using an example of X amount of linen equal to 1 coat, and the mechanism that enables this equation is that there was a certain amount of work put in producing the coat compared to that of production of linen. In other words there are some natural resources out there and it takes a certain amount of labor to access them, and then another amount of labor to give them a physical shape. Thus this final shape is what denotes their value.

Assuming that my reading is correct, it raises interesting questions about the value of information. How do we value information? Or maybe in the case of information we are paying for the shape of it, i.e. for the format? Also, how can we compare for example political news, scifi series and credit data? All of them are types of information with a different amount of work put in them, and yet i am not sure that this is the only criterion they are valued upon.

Here is probably a good moment to mention that surprisingly demand is absent from the mechanism described by Marx. In the world he presents producers exchange commodities with producers. Of course, by the virtue of our social system we all are producers in one way or another, but the approach he presents seems very utilitarian and rational, which i am not sure covering the entire range of possible interactions.

Another thing that strikes me is that Marx addresses commodities as having agency. Maybe it is the same invisible hand of Adams, but here he is talking about commodities communicating among themselves, expressing values, etc. This interesting because it gives the commodities life of their own, unrelatd to personal preferences of the consumers. Moreover, it suggests that the relative value of commodities is defined through this interaction between commodities. This again strikes me as puzzling for the lack of attention to human factors. At the same time it makes sense if we again are thinking about information as a commodity and the value created through assembly of pieces of information.

Recently i started reading Dan Schiller’s “How to think about information” and the first argument he is making is about commoditization of information. I am trying to place information as a commodity in Marx’s scheme, and i find it confusing. Any ideas?

A note on learning language

September 15, 2007

I think i know that i start knowing a language really well when i first use a word and then check in the dictionary to make sure that it actually means what i thought. This is compared to earlier stages when i have the concept in my head in a different language and then start looking in the dictionary for a translation.

Does it make any sense? Am i the only one feeling that way?

Food for thought

September 12, 2007

Here is an interesting story published in Washington Post about the various kinds of online activities targeted by the Chinese censors. This made me wondering once again about the still live and kicking internet censorship law proposal in Israel and a more recent one that aims at creating a database of all communication transactions of the citizens (HE1, HE2, HE blog response). The official justification for establishing such database is fighting the crime and saving lives, which seems like a noble cause. However it is absolutely not clear what is the mechanism of controls eliminating potential abuse of such a system, not to say that it indicates a certain perception of the entire society as potential criminals being constantly watched. Why it isn’t a salient issue on public agenda?