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Archive for September 2005

Important shifts in Internet governance?

Posted on Fri, Sep 30, 2005 at 12:39 PM by Andrew Chadwick

In advance of the second round of the WSIS in November, it appears that Internet governance (or, more specifically, governance of the Domain Name System and ICANN's remit), is in some turmoil. Of particular significance here is a coming to the surface of divisions that have been grumbling on for some time - between the EU/ITU/developing countries and the US/ICANN.

The EU's suggestions for a replacement for ICANN appear to be pretty sketchy at this stage. No doubt more details will follow in the lead-up to the WSIS.

Update: there's a good article about this by Bill Thompson on the openDemocracy site.

Update: another good article by Richard Wray at The Guardian

Broadband take-up in the United States

Posted on Thu, Sep 29, 2005 at 6:03 PM by Andrew Chadwick

A new Pew report has been published, which claims that growth in the adoption of broadband in the United States has recently slowed.

It also contains an interesting explanation of why this has occurred.

Blog software

Posted on Wed, Sep 21, 2005 at 10:59 PM by Andrew Chadwick

Today, after a lengthy discussion with Martin and Owen, two of the e-learning staff at my college, I came to the conclusion that there's a real gap in the market for a proper server based blogging platform that also has a simple way of creating posts offline, and of backing up an entire blog to a directory system on a hard drive - for peace of mind. I use the excellent free and open source Thingamablog for this very blog, which comes close to these requirements, but it doesn't offer all of the functionality of other true server based platforms like Moveable Type or Wordpress, such as the ability to post from anywhere, and from multiple devices. Thingamablog relies on a locally created database that can be duplicated on multiple machines but obviously this isn't as useful as having the ability to post from an Internet cafe or your mobile phone. I know it's possible to export an entire blog from many platforms, but then you'd have to import the whole thing again to be able to read it. Maybe there are other solutions out there. I'll have to look into it.

New Statesman's conference blog

Posted on Mon, Sep 19, 2005 at 10:26 PM by Andrew Chadwick

Blogging is becoming increasingly widespread among professional journalists in the UK, and not just the tech news crowd, as The New Statesman's party conference blog demonstrates.

'Blogifying' party websites

Posted on Thu, Sep 15, 2005 at 10:15 AM by Andrew Chadwick

The new US Democratic Party website, launched at the end of June, 2005, has been radically 'blogified'. There is a prominent headline blog, but virtually the whole site, including most of its issue and subnational sections, has been given over to a chronological 'post and comments' format. There are no discussion boards, but the various blogs are already attracting some major traffic, especially given that it's a fairly quiet time in US electoral politics.

This is a direct result of the sea change that occurred in 2003-04. It represents a huge shift in the style of party websites, not only when compared with the 2000 campaign, but also the 2002 midterms. Dismissals of the non-interactive nature of politicians' sites (at least in the US) are looking increasingly anachronistic.

Yahoo, privacy and the state in China

Posted on Thu, Sep 15, 2005 at 9:03 AM by Andrew Chadwick

The New York Times reports on the story of a Chinese dissident whose Yahoo email account was probably surrendered to the authorities by the US-based company as part of an investigation last year. I say 'probably' because Yahoo are refusing to comment. An interesting case because it reveals the conflict between the commercial imperatives faced by the likes of Yahoo, Google and Microsoft (not wanting to damage their prospects in a potentially lucrative market) and those companies' origins in western societies with established liberal traditions regarding individual privacy and freedom of speech. This illustrates a broader point, which is that it may be perfectly possible for China and other countries to operate a 'walled garden' approach to the net. They may be able to control its political side-effects, while benefitting from its economic gains. Indeed, I refereed an interesting paper on this very subject a few weeks back.

See also the excellent book: Kalathil, S. and Boas, T. C. (2003) Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC).

Update: George Monbiot quotes from an article in the Calgary Herald (which I couldn't track down) about keyword filtering on MSN China:

'If Chinese users of Microsoft’s internet service MSN try to send a message containing the words "democracy", "liberty" or "human rights", they are warned that "This message includes forbidden language. Please delete the prohibited expression."

Edited on: Thu, Sep 15, 2005 9:51 AM

Skype and missing the point about eBay?

Posted on Tue, Sep 13, 2005 at 12:58 PM by Andrew Chadwick

With all the feverish discussion about eBay's acquisition of Skype focusing on whether it's a genuine attempt to integrate VOIP into the e-commerce mainstream, nobody seems to be raising the essential point about eBay's success: it is the impersonality of the eBay experience that appeals to people. Yes, as Ross Mayfield says, 'markets are conversations', but I would suggest that most sellers and buyers prefer the distancing effects, the relative anonymity and 'safety' of textual communication. They also like the ability to screen out people from transactions. Real space auctions would be far more popular if this were not the case. Skype consists of textual instant messaging features, which will undoubtedly prove popular if integrated into eBay, but will buyers and sellers really want to talk to each other?

News Corp's change of heart

Posted on Mon, Sep 12, 2005 at 12:39 PM by Andrew Chadwick

This has been rumbling under the surface for some time now, but it seems that News Corp has embarked on what might turn out to be a major acquisition spree. NC was extremely cautious during the late 1990s dotcom boom, but early in 2005, Rupert Murdoch made a few high profile speeches about how he now 'got' the Internet was reshaping news and entertainment media. He now wants to turn the company into an 'entertainment Google' - a first port(al) of call for a young digital generation looking for entertainment content. It's particularly interesting that he places virtual community sites like myspace.com at the centre of this. However, there are also some more obvious moves, like buying Scout.com - a major network of sports sites, or IGN, a gaming network.

As the Guardian article states, in a matter of a few weeks, NC has become the "fourth largest Internet firm in the world" - as measured by page impressions, "behind Yahoo, Time Warner and MSN". It's also likely that we'll see greater convergence of NC's Internet, film studio and television interests (particularly DirecTV in the US and Sky/SkyPlus in the UK) over the coming period.

Update: it seems that convergence fever is spreading, with eBay's acquisition of VOIP software company, Skype. How long before ''Talk with this seller" buttons appear on the auction listings?

Edited on: Mon, Sep 12, 2005 11:45 PM

Geek orthodox

Posted on Sat, Sep 10, 2005 at 2:36 PM by Andrew Chadwick

Internet pioneer and current Chairman of ICANN, Vint Cerf, is to move from telecoms firm MCI to Google. His job title is "Chief Internet Evangelist", and he says his language will be "Geek Orthodox". Cerf's role, along with Bob Kahn and many others, in the development of TCP/IP, is, of course, well-known.

This is a fascinating development for what it tells us about Google's strategy. It has already reinvented itself as an Internet services company, and it appears likely to move further in this direction with people like Cerf on board. Cerf's knowledge of the technical building blocks that make the Internet what it is, as well as his role in the controversial ICANN, will give Google all kinds of insider knowledge.

As Cerf says: "What Google has really been doing is building an entirely new infrastructure and whenever you do that, it creates opportunities for new applications".

Back in the dotcom boom, there was much excitement about the 'ASPs' - application service providers. The 'death of the desktop' was declared. What we are seeing now with Google is a move to make a big dent in the desktop operating system concept, by moving a lot of the stuff we do with our computers into a client-server environment. This allows us to access dynamically updated information from many different locations, using many different devices. All of this requires knowledge of how net technology can be shaped through new standards and protocols - Cerf's domain.

E-voting dead in the UK?

Posted on Fri, Sep 09, 2005 at 11:17 AM by Andrew Chadwick

There appears to be something of an emerging consensus among party politicians in the UK that the security fears over e-voting are enough to kill it off as an idea. The British electoral machinery has gone through quite difficult times of late, with several high profile cases of voter fraud during the May 2005 general election, so it's not surprising that this sort of experimentation is being frowned upon.

How to interpret the significance of this is less easy. E-democracy advocates tend to be divided on the issue of push-button style e-voting. Some simply define e-democracy that way, others have a more deliberative approach which values the processes leading up to the actual decision. Still others see the convenience of, for example, voting by mobile phone, as something symbolically significant that will spark off more general interest in Internet forms of consultation and participation.

There's certainly something in the view that there's little point in online deliberation unless, at some stage, this is tied to some form of decision-making. But this would appear to be better suited to local or small scale decision-making on discrete issues, with specific time limits in place. These pull people into the deliberative process and the decision. Giving people the opportunity to spend ten seconds texting their vote at a general election provides an opportunity to decide, without any obligation to deliberate.

Email, Text, Phone

Posted on Wed, Sep 07, 2005 at 6:31 PM by Andrew Chadwick

I came across a few of these while visiting Cornwall (in SW England) recently.


Comments and trackbacks added

Posted on Tue, Sep 06, 2005 at 11:26 PM by Andrew Chadwick

After much highly unsuccessful messing around with php and perl I opted for Haloscan to add comments and trackback functionality to the blog templates. All appears to be going well so far, though I'm bracing myself for 'comments spam' right now.

From cracked Windows to file sharing

Posted on Tue, Sep 06, 2005 at 11:51 AM by Andrew Chadwick

An interesting article at Wired News about the, er, 'improvements' crackers make to MS Windows installation CDs. What is so surprising is that the company has taken this long to freeze those using cracked versions of Windows out of "Windows Update".

It is often said that software companies deliberately encourage unauthorized copying of their products in the early stages of development because it quickly creates a market through 'network effects'. The more people that use a product, the more value it has to that network of users, and, of course, to the company. This is how 'standards' emerge. Once such standards are embedded, they are difficult to dislodge. Not everyone wants to use cracked software, so a company's sales will gradually increase. Putting up with a minority of people unwilling to pay for their software is a small price to pay for creating lock-in effects in the overall picture.

Much the same argument can be made about file sharing: those who download music illegally tend to buy more CDs because they are exposed to a greater diversity of artists and styles. File sharers share information across a network. This information is socially valuable for the listeners, because it gives them knowledge of new artists. It is simultaneously commercially valuable for the record companies, because it is free marketing based on networks. You download an mp3, you like it, you tell your friends, your friends get to like it, buy the album, the t-shirt, the poster, and the tour tickets. All of a sudden you find yourself buying the artist's second album and so it goes on... In a sphere driven by short-term fashion and peer pressure, the socially useful information gleaned from a peer-to-peer network creates network effects that benefit you, your friends, the record company and the artist.


Posted on Mon, Sep 05, 2005 at 7:58 PM by Andrew Chadwick

Over the next few weeks I'll be attempting to add features to the blog itself. Top of the list is some sort of add-on that will allow people to post comments.

Here we go...

Posted on Mon, Sep 05, 2005 at 7:50 PM by Andrew Chadwick

This blog is officially open! The book will be published late February 2006 in the US, and mid-April 2006 in Europe, but I thought I'd make an early start. I'll be using this as a place to gather together materials that illustrate and augment the themes and issues covered in the book. The idea is that it will be a dynamic compendium of links, snippets, and commentary. Hopefully it will add to your enjoyment of the book - and my courses, if you're unlucky enough to be taking them! In the fast-moving sphere of Internet politics, blogging seems to me to be by far the best way for an author to keep things up to date.

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