Archive for the ‘internet’ Category

Politics, popularity, and personalization

June 22, 2008

I already said that i love DC. Another reason to love it, are the many opportunities offered by this city.

A week ago or so, i participated in a debate/discussion about “new” media and political campaigns hosted by Google and National Journal and titled “The First 21-st Century Campaign“. Being hosted by Google, the event attracted some very interesting people and was held in a format of discussion rather than a traditional (academic) presentation-style lectures. Unfortunately, i wasn’t smart enough to bring a camera even though the event was absolutely open and the organizers even encouraged people capturing it in any possible way. Another unfortunate thing was that i couldn’t stay for the entire event and in fact stayed only for the first panel (out of three).

Ad of the Google\'s June Symposium

Fortunately, though, the first panel was very thought provoking.  Nothing super controversial or innovative has been said, but it was great to hear thet the industry people are concerned with the same issues that academics are.  Actually, i think the panel would benefit from a visionary academic person who could bring the entire discussion under a comprehensive (dare I say, macro) umbrella.

The first panel, moderated by Judy Woodruff of PBS, hosted Mark Halperin (“Time” – as a representative of the old media), Katherine Ham (Townhall.com, even though she announced she has a new job now), James Kotecki (Politico – he and Katherine were the representatives of “new” media), Phil Singer (Clinton campaign), and Kevin Madden (Mitt Romney campaign _ he and Singer were the political practitioners on the panel).

Most of the discussion focused on the tensions between the “old” and the “new” media.  In my view it started pretty awkward with Kotecki’s remark that he doesn’t see himself as a journalist and was (i got a sense that he was implying that he still is) making his video just to feel popular.  It was particularly stonning because one of the main points of the discussion was credibility of the “new” media as a journalistic practice.  Kotecki himself was making claims for being credible, which (together with some of the other comments, such as those made by Singer) got me thinking whether or not the 2.0 culture equates credibility to popularity.  If so, i find that idea pretty disturbing.  One the one hand, i can buy into the idea of wisdom of crowds (that’s the term i think), but, on the other hand, i cannot buy into dismissal of expertise that seems to be attached to it (at least in the current discussion).

Another interesting point came from the campaign people and it was primarily about the use they make of information.  For Madden, the “new” media were all about speed and precision of the media message.  Even though they never got talking explicitly about how they use microtargeting (even though i raised that questions), it was constantly implied in the examples they provided.  Building of the idea of popularity, it was now also the ability of precise targeting of the message.  I would describe that as an ability of talking about “popularities” rather than a single popularity.  To a a degree that appeared as a distinction between the “old” and the “new” media as well.  I found the latter rather interesting – the basic concepts mass (popularity) did not change, but progressed and evolved (into popularities), but the substance became implicitly even less important.  In other words, there is no substantive change in the policy or in the ideas, but the package is more personalized.

As the discussion evolved, it became more interesting and sophisticated.  To one degree or another, the panelists touched upon many relevant points.  This highlight was, I think, when Singer or Halperin, noticed that the mere division between the “old” and the “new” was artificial.  Ham also was very sharp when talking about the relations between the “old” and the “new” media (even though she was clearly advocating for the legitimacy of the latter).  I found this particularly interesting, because usually you hear a very deterministically-dichotomous discourse where the “new” is presented as separate and mostly superior to the “old”.  Even though Judy Woodruff finished the panel with some techno-utopian remarks (mostly as a tribute to the host), it did spoil the overall flavor of complexity.

On the practical level i came out of this symposium with two titles for potential books.  Not that i plan on writing those this summer, but… If i were to write a book with critical analysis of the modern Western society, particularly focusing on the youth, i would title it “The popularity generation.”  Maybe there is such a book already and maybe it will become the label of generation Y with all the reality shows and a myriad of televised competitions (for popularity of course :).  The other book would be about this campaign, or about contemporary politics in a broader sense.  That one i would title “The politics of personalization.”

Finally, kind of getting back to one of my first points, i think the symposium would really benefit from an academic input.  Maybe even more broadly, i think this industry could learn as much from the academia as the academia is learning from it.  At the end of the day, all the points raised by the panelists are being discussed and studied, and bringing those inputs would enrich the discussion and probably take it into the next level.

You can read a short post following the event on Google’s blog or you can actually watch the entire thing on C-Span (and enjoy me asking some questions :).

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The AP drama

June 20, 2008

I just learned about a currently developing online drama.  Associated Press (AP) decided that they are going to charge bloggers and anyone who cites their content.  The tariff is $2.5 a word or $12.5 for five words.  Now, as I understand it, if I post here a title of AP’s article with a link to it, I will have to pay, and if i cite anything from their article and provide a link to it, i will still have to pay.

AP are explaning this move in copyright terms and are apparently threatening to sue some bloggers. Frankly, I am finding it really difficult to follow their logic.  If they don’t want people to cite and link to their content, why are they making it available online?  Either I am missing some huge point here, or peole at AP don’t understand the “rules of the game” they are into.

Chase scam

June 8, 2008

I noticed that my CFCU scam post is receiving a lot of traffic. So, when i got another “nice” scam message, i decided to post it here too as a service to the community.

This time the message came supposedly from Chase:

Dear Customer

Due to concerns, for the safety and integrity of your Chase.com account we have issued this warning message.

It has come to our attention that your Chase.com account information needs to be updated as part of our continuing commitment to protect your account and to reduce the instance of fraud on our website. If you could please take 5-10 minutes out of your online experience and update your personal records you will not run into any future problems with the online service.

Once you have updated your account records your account service will not be interrupted and will continue as normal.

To update your account records click on the following link:

http://update.chase.com/

JP Morgan Chase Bank © 2008 Chase Bank. Member FDIC.

Thank You.

Now, if you look at the code, the link actually leads to: http://www.0011race.com/images/chase.html. If you delete everything after the .com, you will see a website that seems to be in Korean.  It looks like a gambling website, but i don’t really know (if you read the language, please feel free to leave a comment telling what the orignal website is about).

Here, i have to give kudos to FireFox (FF). When i went to this page, i received a warning message telling that this is a scam and even its purpose:

FF warning message for Chase scam

So, one more reason to use FF. I was really impressed.

If you disregard this message, you will see a web page that resembles the Chase website with one weird (and i think not very smart) behavior – every single link at the website would bring you back to the same page.

Chase Scam screen 1

Unless, of course, you enter some random characters for the User ID and the Password.  In that case, you will receive the following page:

Chase Scam screen 2

This one is actually rather funny. They are asking you for a bunch of things such as your email password and your social security number. That should be a clear red flag for anyone, even the least experienced user! Similarly to the CFCU scam, they are smart about requesting a certain type and a certain number of characters in the various fields. However, unlike the CFCU folks, they are not clever with resuming it in an “elegant” way. They keep on telling you that the credit card number you’ve entered is wrong. Probably this is an attempt to collect a number of credit card numbers counting on a person trying a different card each time. But at the same time, i think this kind of behavior would alert anyone.

To summarize, it is a scam, and not the most elegant one. If you got that email and this post helped you in clarifying your doubts, i am glad.

Net-neutrality through legislation?

May 19, 2008

Now, this looks like an attempt to deal with questions of net-neutrality through legislation. John Conyers (D-MI) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) are trying to promote a new bill aimed at making it “unlawful for any broadband network provider … to block, to impair, to discriminate against, or to interfere with the ability of any person to use a broadband network service”. Apparently it is already second attempt to assure net-neutrality through legislation and it will be interesting to see how things evolve. Interestingly, there was practically no mention of this in the mainstream media…

Optimisitic numbers

May 16, 2008

Even though I didn’t make it to Telecom Africa, I couldn’t escape the African motive. Recently, I came across some optimistic numbers about adoption of ICT in the region. The ITU report, cited here, suggests that (a) there is currently more technology in Africa and (b) it is more evenly spread across the continent (the more interesting observation in my view). At the same time, it suggests that people in Africa find mobile more useful, compared to the internet, which is not surprising provided the price of internet access (the cite states a figure of $50 and that is a lot!). In fact, the mobile market is showing impressive growth in other developing countries, which makes it supposedly an interesting aim for foreign investors.

I wonder though, what is the impact of adoption of these technologies on the lives of people? Do they make their lives easier? Happier? More prosperous? How do they use it? How different these ways are from what we are used for? What business and technological innovation is taking place in this process?

Quite fascinating…

On social networks and shared culture

April 25, 2008

I recently finished grading a lot of papers on the topic of “new” media and culture for Tarleton’s COMM 320 class. Our students had to react to the following statement using the class readings:

Digital media technologies tend to individualize us, to make us feel more separate; digital culture (i.e. the kinds of content those technologies give us access to and the cultural meanings that content regularly offers) tend to connect us, to make us feel more a part of something.

One of the prominent examples to how the “digital culture tend to connect us” was the social networks websites. This is probably why the following post caught my eye. It summaries results of social media study from Universal McCann, which shows major differences between the US and Asian countries in terms of online social networking. It seems that people in different parts of the world tend to join different social networks, which actually makes perfect sense, but undermines that globally-unifying factor that many of our students highlighted (also note the white spaces on the map). It also shows that even in the US itself there is not homogeneity in these environment. In fact, Eszter had a paper showing, among other things, that different ethnic groups in the US tend to join different social networking website.

It could be interesting to look at the complete report since it also suggest differences in patterns of grassroots content production in various regions of the world. I think when talking about “new” media and “digital” culture, it s very important to put things in context (and that is one of the ideas in my eyes behind thinking macro :). I wonder though what would be the best way to incorporate that in teaching.

More on Facebook

April 5, 2008

Here is a post that has been sitting in my drafts for a while (I am even embarrassed to say how long).  Even though, re-reading it now, I think it is still relevant.

Since Microsoft bought a minority share in Facebook (FB), the later refuses to leave the news pages. Actually, i personally was surprised by the 15 billion evaluation of a network that has a rather fuzzy product. Unfortunately i was (and still am) stuck with school tasks, so i didn’t have the time to play with the numbers myself. Fortunately there are people out there with more time, who did the excercize.

As i suspected, the 15 billion figure is indeed appears blown out of proportion. Jesse Chan of FisTrain has a detailed explanation that leads him to estimate FB’s annual earnings in 2007 at US $47.7 million, which in turn gives Facebook a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 316. In other words, Microsoft paid US $316 for each US $1 of earnings of Facebook. For comparison, General Electric’s P/E in the last 12 month was about 18.5, General Motors’ 11.23, Google’s (which i think is still high) was 58.21, and Amazon’s (even higher) 102.21.

Of course, we can assume that the company is going to grow tremendously in the future. For example, at the end of 2007 FB launched “FB Pages” that will allow local businesses and brands to have their own pages. Users will be supposed to interact with those pages, contributing to viral marketing and sharing their demographics. In other words it moves towards the mainstream, marketing-oriented media activity (an further away from its potential educational promises), which suggests better profitability. However, according to Chan, even if FB will generate US $200 million in net income in 2008 (four times more compared to 2007) , its P/E ratio will still be at 75, which in my view is very high.

My point is that FB is an example that has too much resemblance with the spirits of late 1990’s when we worked with multipliers of 400 and 600. Of course some lessons have been learned and the advertising models online are more sophisticated compared to what we saw in the year 2000. However, the remaining question is if the advertising industry capable of supporting an entire other industry that is producing nothing but detailed demographics while being expected to grow 3 and 4 times a year.

Online activism week

March 27, 2008

Updated: March 28, 2008

CyberRightsIt seems to me that this week can be easily titled as the online activism week.

Online deliberative spaces continue gaining further recognition in the global political discourse. In Europe, the blogosphere is gaining weight as an innovative political voice. In the States there is a rather creative “battle” unfolding between raining McCains, quite arrogant ObamaGirls, and others. However, all it pales compared to the last week developments surrounding the violence in Tibet.

A recent post from a blog tracking Alexa shows that Avaaz.org jumped into the top three online “movers and shakers” this week. Avaaz is a civil rights organization with a “simple” aim “to close the gap between the world we have, and the world most people everywhere want.” The peak in traffic came as a result of them winning a YouTube contest in the political video category. However I got exposed to their name a few days earlier when the blogosphere got practically swamped with calls to support an Avaaz-led petition to end the violence in Tibet.

All this is taking place on the background of Chinese government issuing rules that shut down “unfriendly” online video websites and blocking YouTube and Yahoo for their coverage of Tibet. Similar action was taken by Burmese government during the violence that took place last year.  This time, however, i also see some grassroots anti-Tibet expressions as well.  Here is a link to a video that I got through the international mailing list here at Cornell.

These and other instances suggest that grassroots reporting from conflict zones matters and potentially has some impacts. However whether or not the ability of online activist to raise public awareness can be translated into tangible action, especially in these situations, remains an open question in my mind.

Opening up

March 25, 2008

DimaInSouthPark Quoting Ostap Bender, the main character of an outstanding soviet satirical novel, “The ice has moved, honorable members of the jury!”. Well, it actually started moving some time ago, but now it is getting an additional push. While some media and information industry players work day and night to make our lives harder by creating artificial difficulties, there are others who understand that things have changed. South Park are making their episodes available online and it is free and supposedly legal. They do have short commercials spread throughout the episodes, but those are bearable and the overall quality of video is decent.

Enjoy!

In the meantime, in a kingdom far, far away…

March 22, 2008

While the Israeli legislators are passing laws for big-brother-like censorship of the Internet, the “developed” world is taking more complex, yet more thoughtful steps towards the same goal – online safety for children. For example, the EU is going to spend 55m Euros on educational efforts in the next four years to promote online safety. In the US there is a similar initiative fighting its way through the Senate, even though with some difficulties. Even Google is partaking in the educational effort, even though they are perfectly fine with promoting safety through better algorithms. It seems like everybody, but the Israeli lawmakers (together with their colleagues in other Middle Eastern countries and in Asia) realize that in order to keep the balance between openness and safety we need education.  We can definitely create a very limited version of the internet, hoping it will be safe, but it is that openness of this platform that drives the internet as we know it today.  Education may be a more expansive and a more demanding solution, but it appears as the most substantial one

It seems like there is a great distance between the rhetoric employed by proponents of the law and their action. If you read the linked articles you will see that even the definition of threat to the children is different. While the Israeli MK see their role as protectors in preventing the children from viewing naked bodies online, everybody else are actually concerned with more tangible issues such as utilization of online resources for child abuse. Maybe I am missing some highly philosophical part of an argument that suggests that child abuse originates in corrupted minds of those who consume porn (or any other sex related content for that matter), however I doubt that.  There is actually a real threat for children actively participating online and it has to be addressed.

When put side by side, both types of efforts apply the same rhetoric for defining the goal. However when one is aimed at addressing a real problem rooted in contemporary issues, the other is taking advantage of people’s prejudges and fears in an attempt to promote one way of life at expanse of another.  This later part is really warring and it results in different types of action with different types of broad repercussions.  While following the censorship route brings with it limitations on creativity, openness, etc. thus hurting the long-term technology driven innovation, I cannot foresee similar difficulties with the education route.  On the contrary, i believe that following the education route would bring additional benefits in terms of capacity building for the society and its economies.  I hope that MKs will do some research before they register their votes in the second and the third rounds of hearings for the internet censorship law.