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Archive for the Ch 12: Political Economy Category


Posted on Mon, Apr 07, 2008 at 12:57 PM by Andrew Chadwick

WikiCandidate is a fascinating experiment in user-generated content focused on a very specific exercise: the creation of a virtual campaign for a fictional presidential candidate.

Run by a team of students led by Professor Tarleton Gillespie of the Department of Communication at Cornell, the site aims to enable you, the plain old regular internet user, to:

"create a "perfect" presidential candidate unfettered by a checkered past or foot-in-mouth syndrome. The only stipulation is that the candidate you build must be agreed upon by the other participants on the site. To reach an agreement, you may need to promote your opinions and positions on various issues, or compromise with other users on some points to gain support for the candidate."

The project has only just begun and things are likely to heat up soon. The most interesting pages to date are those set aside for "Issues." These contain entries on affordable local food, education reform, healthcare, and so on. There is also a section labelled "Coalitions" as well as a Donate button (not for cash donations, but for "donating" survey answers when the team conduct analysis of the experiment later on).

The site is based on a hybrid blog and wiki platform, the aim being to get some discussion going about the candidate's policies and character.

This is an interesting project - a nice mix of ideas about sociotechnical design and civic engagement. The WikiCandidate experiment will be the subject of a panel at next week's Politics: Web 2.0 Conference at Royal Holloway, University of London, organised by the New Political Communication Unit. The final conference programme is now published.


Interesting developments at AOL news

Posted on Tue, Jan 08, 2008 at 7:17 PM by Andrew Chadwick

While there have been sceptics, something interesting is going on at AOL News. Most noteworthy are a) the very tight integration of user interaction with the story itself and b) the ability to "switch off" user comments. The first is classic low threshold web 2.0 but the second is obviously a response to perceptions of information pollution caused by user comments. Having said that, the comments facility on the site is slick and commenting volumes on some of the stories are very high indeed.

[Crossposted at the New Political Communication Unit blog]

The European Commission versus Microsoft

Posted on Tue, Oct 23, 2007 at 11:21 PM by Andrew Chadwick

One of the regulatory cases I discuss in the conclusion to Internet Politics finally came to an end yesterday, or so it would seem, when Microsoft Corporation agreed that it would open up its server software to competitors. The basic issue here is interoperability. The Commission has argued for three years that Microsoft's refusal to geuninely open up its code was anti-competitive and slapped £350 million fine on the company in 2004. Microsoft lost its latest appeal and has decided not to re-appeal the decision.

Next, the Commission will be turning its attention to Google's recent acquisition of Doubleclick.

The decline of participatory television

Posted on Thu, Sep 13, 2007 at 5:47 PM by Andrew Chadwick

Over the last few months in the UK, there has been a fierce debate regarding the ethics of television. This has been fuelled by a number of scandals around racism, sexism and homophobia in reality TV shows (Celebrity Big Brother, the recent series of 'ordinary' Big Brother, now Hell's Kitchen); 'rip-off' or fabricated viewer phone-ins; and general concern over hypercommercialization in less regulated areas of satellite and cable TV, such as the quiz channels that occupy the obscure reaches of the satellite listings. Public trust in viewer participation formats seems to be at a low ebb.

The parlous state of some British television, and surely one of the forces driving the exodus away from the medium among the under-30s was brought home to me last Friday.

I was watching a Channel 4 programme about what had happened to the latest Big Brother contestants following the end of the series. There were the usual tours of radio and TV studios, tabloid photo sessions, and so on. There was also a rather heated argument between two of the housemates: Charley and Chanelle. The argument itself was not interesting, but one of Charley's outbursts was. At one point, she started singing the hook line from the well-known Janis Joplin song 'Mercedes Benz' (you know it: "Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz").

Charley proceeded to boastfully explain that she had sung that line regularly during her time in the Big Brother house because she had been 'sponsored' by Mercedes to do so. She went on to state that she had been rewarded with a Mercedes sports car. This particular scene lasted only a few seconds, then it was off to the next photo session, and so on.

Was it true? Well, yes: she did sing that song on several occasions while in the house.

Did she get the car for doing so? This is where it becomes more difficult. We do not know. A web search has thrown up nothing more than a speculative thread on the entertainment and gossip website Digital Spy.

Let's suppose it is true. If it is, this was one of those rare, often very brief, moments which seem to crystallise something perfectly. The great hopes for participatory television formats, especially the sense of wonder at Big Brother when it first emerged, must now be put in contexts such as this: a housemate (possibly) 'sponsored' by a car manufacturer to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds, to spread brand awareness by behaving in a deceptively spontaneous manner. And then we wonder why the participatory web has taken off so rapidly. People are turning to it for multiple reasons, but authenticity must surely be one of them.

[Crossposted at the New Political Communication Unit blog]

Update 1: there is an excellent response to this post by Nick Anstead.
Update 2: the vote-rigging scandals continue here and here.
Edited on: Fri, Sep 21, 2007 8:11 PM

The Digg rebellion

Posted on Wed, May 02, 2007 at 11:01 PM by Andrew Chadwick

An amazing day over at the popular news rating site Digg. In response to participants posting the DRM keys for HD-DVD (recently made widely available on the Internet by hackers), and fellow users 'digging' these, the team behind the site started deleting the posts and suspending user accounts. They did this due to a 'take down' notice issued by what the Digg blog refers to as 'the owners of this intellectual property'. This is a body known as the AACS licensing authority.

There then ensued a huge increase in the number of postings of the encryption key, and the number of diggs quickly spiralled out of control, reaching more than 50,000 as of this posting. When the company's founder, Kevin Rose, realised that it was going to prove impossible to delete the posts and suspend even more accounts, essentially destroying the essence of Digg itself, he threw in the towel, and probably settled in for a meeting with the company lawyers.

This seems to be a clear illustration of this: a core of activist posters and commenters are what drive web 2.0 sites. Without their support, good will, and leadership, a site will die.

Wikipedia edit wars

Posted on Wed, Mar 28, 2007 at 4:48 PM by Andrew Chadwick

There's been some discussion on the AOIR list lately of Wikipedia "edit wars" - conflicts that break out over the precise content of entries. This page illustrates some of these. The academic in me makes me think that some of these are actually pretty serious and not at all lame, but maybe that's my problem.

Challenges to GooTube

Posted on Mon, Mar 26, 2007 at 11:10 PM by Andrew Chadwick

News Corp and NBC are banding together to create an online video presence that they, rather than Google, control. As I blogged when the GooTube deal was first struck, they were always in danger of intellectual property related weakness. The Los Angeles Times says:

"Hollywood has long been the king of entertainment. It believes that viewers will eventually get tired of the amateur videos that populate YouTube and other video-sharing sites, and that professionally produced material will win out."

They might be onto something.

(Crossposted at the New Political Communication Unit Blog).

Another "Army of Davids" example?

Posted on Mon, Mar 26, 2007 at 11:04 PM by Andrew Chadwick

Another example for the "Army of Davids" hall of fame, as Arianna Huffington mobilizes thirty citizen journalists to successfully unearth the identity of the person who made the Hillary Clinton "1984" video. Turns out the video was heavily borrowed from Connecticut Bob, the citizen journalist who featured in the Ned Lamont vs Joe Lieberman contest last autumn.

Edited on: Mon, Mar 26, 2007 11:36 PM

A promising new model of news - Daylife

Posted on Fri, Jan 05, 2007 at 2:24 PM by Andrew Chadwick

In the scholarly literature on contemporary news media, one of the biggest themes is that they devalue context - the 'how did we get here' questions. This is especially acute in the realm of TV news, where soundbite slots and 15-second stories prevail. But it can also characteristic of online news, where the flow of stories is so much more voluminous and quick.

Daylife, a new news service/portal launched today, attempts to get around some of these problems. Most interesting to me are the devices that allow you to see various contexts for a particular story, such as photo feeds, key quotations and an ingenious timeline feature.The images are high quality licensed ones from Getty. In this era of fragmentation and endlessly customisable content (see Netvibes), I also like the idea of editors picking the front page, as well as automating the integration of good sources to produce something high quality, coherent yet still pluralistic.It's way ahead of Google News in that regard.

I can see Daylife becoming very popular among students and teachers, but will it gain a wider user base? Is it going to put a dent in the dominant modes of news production and consumption, offline or online?

UK intellectual property policy: the Gowers Report

Posted on Fri, Dec 08, 2006 at 6:51 PM by Andrew Chadwick

The long-awaited Gowers Review of intellectual property law in the UK has now reported. Based on its finding that the "music industry [is] losing as much as 20 per cent of annual turnover to piracy and counterfeiting", it recommended strengthening the authorities' hand in combating intellectual property infringement. However, it decided against extending terms for copyrighted sound recordings and performers' rights beyond the current 50 years, or, as it is more technically correct to say: it recommended to the European Commission that it should not bind the UK to extended terms.

There's some witty analysis on Bill Thompson's blog, here and here.

GooTube again

Posted on Thu, Oct 19, 2006 at 10:48 PM by Andrew Chadwick

Interesting comments from Virginia Heffernan of the New York Times about the universality of video versus text online, reinforcing one of the themes of the book: convergence is finally upon us.


Posted on Tue, Oct 10, 2006 at 2:37 PM by Andrew Chadwick

The web 2.0 mini-boom (see chart from FT site) continues with Google's acquisition of YouTube for 1.65 billion dollars. How this will develop is anybody's guess. So much of YouTube's current content is in violation of copyright legislation, but removing it would arguably put a halt to the phenomenal growth of their user base. Deals have been made with Sony, CBS and Universal Music Group, but are Google going to remove all copyrighted material before further deals have been struck? And how many of those deals will it take to make the venue compelling and cheap enough to be funded solely by advertising?

Source: 'Copyright Problems Could Hinder New Partners' FT.com October 10, 2006.

Edited on: Thu, Feb 19, 2009 1:11 AM

Net neutrality round-up

Posted on Tue, Jul 18, 2006 at 3:31 PM by Andrew Chadwick

Net neutrality emerged as a controversial policy issue in the US, and, increasingly it would seem, in European countries as well, after my book went to press. It's a constantly moving target but some kind of punctuation has recently been achieved with the US Senate's Commerce Committee's rejection of a neutrality proposal. The Committee was unable to reach a majority decision and tied votes at 11-11. Democratic Senators backed the proposal, an amendment to the new Telecommunications Bill. The House of Representatives had rejected a similar amendment back in early June. From the CNet News article:

"Democrats had rallied behind an amendment, adapted from a standalone bill they offered in May, which would have barred network operators from discriminating "in the carriage and treatment of Internet traffic based on the source, destination or ownership of such traffic." That could have prevented Verizon from inking deals to offer high-definition video and prioritizing that on its network, for instance.
Without new rules prohibiting such practices, "we're giving two entities, the Bells and cable, the power to be able to cut deals, and that will change the relationship of entrepreneurs to the Internet and to the financial marketplace," said John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat."

You might be wondering why net neutrality matters? Fundamentally it's a classic case of how infrastructure regulation has implications for the kinds of services and content that will be produced and consumed online. If you like the idea of people being able to freely create and distribute online content and offer useful services to people who can access those services freely, you'll be in favour of net neutrality. If you don't mind large telecommunication and/or media companies charging higher prices for people to create and consume certain content and services, or, worse still, completely denying access in some cases, then you'll be against it. The "neutrality" concept is analagous with telephone service. As Google puts it: "just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online." Here is a collection of useful links to read more about this:

CNet News with lots of links to older stories

Susan Crawford's Net Neutrality FAQ

Article for Slate by Tim Wu

Wikipedia entry

Rant on This Week in Tech

And finally... a funny take by Jon Stewart (clip on Youtube)

Edited on: Tue, Jul 18, 2006 3:35 PM

Chris Anderson "long tail" interview

Posted on Thu, Jul 13, 2006 at 10:03 AM by Andrew Chadwick

To follow up my earlier post on the political economy of the "long tail", there is a decent interview here with Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson, in support of his new book.

Wikipedia and editorial control

Posted on Mon, Jun 19, 2006 at 4:07 PM by Andrew Chadwick

People have been predicting its demise for quite some time, so it's interesting to look at what's happening (registration required) in the world of Wikipedia. In short, greater recognition of the efforts of the 1000 or so 'core' writers, editors and watchdogs and a willingness to close articles to further editing in the name of quality control. This looks like a future direction for similar developments, particularly blogging. A compromise between the free-for-all and the old hierarchical models in content production?

Bloggers have same rights as regular journalists in the US

Posted on Tue, May 30, 2006 at 11:16 PM by Andrew Chadwick

EFF image

Update to a development discussed in the Conclusion to Internet Politics. In March 2005, a Santa Clara County Superior Court decision ruled that bloggers were not entitled to the same First Amendment protections as regularly employed journalists. The case involved Apple Computer's subpoenaing of three gossip blog owners on the grounds that the sites published trade secrets about forthcoming Apple products. The company sought the names of the sites' 'insider' sources. The fact that these blogs act as wonderful free publicity for the company seems to have escaped their notice, but the longer term implications for more overtly political blogs could have been significant, had it not been for today's decision.

Open source in India

Posted on Sat, May 13, 2006 at 7:48 PM by Andrew Chadwick

A nice article by Bill Thompson on the benefits of free and open source software (FOSS) in India, with some original and provocative arguments about FOSS's compatibility with western capitalism:

Until now free and open source software has been one of the ways in which the US spread its values around the world, the soft guy approach that seems to oppose but in fact is symbiotic with hard-edged capitalism on the Microsoft and Intel model. Both are firmly embedded in US cultural values, and the free market is as important to Linux as it is to Microsoft.

But also how the developing countries might subvert this:

These programmers will take today’s Linux code and make it far more useful to the people of India and other developing countries than today’s predominantly Western developer community ever could. And when that happens the centre of free software development will soon begin to move from the US and Europe.
Free software provides a bridge between the affluence of the West and the poverty of most of the world’s population, and amounts to a massive flow of intellectual capital into the developing world.

Brian McNair on the global digital news revolution

Posted on Sun, May 07, 2006 at 12:47 PM by Andrew Chadwick

An exciting trailer article for the new book. See also Jeff Jarvis's interesting article from the week before.

Yochai Benkler's The Wealth of Networks wiki

Posted on Mon, Apr 17, 2006 at 7:11 PM by Andrew Chadwick

Yochai Benkler, whose work I discuss in Chapter 12, has a new book out. There is a promising wiki to accompany it.

Peer-to-peer search

Posted on Fri, Mar 24, 2006 at 6:40 PM by Andrew Chadwick

A very intriguing development in the world of search, and the shape of things to come in terms of the anti-Google backlash?

The long tail

Posted on Mon, Mar 06, 2006 at 11:07 AM by Andrew Chadwick

Chris Anderson's long tail chart

The theory of the 'long tail' is that online commerce and distribution is changing the economics of the media and entertainment industries. Ever wondered why a city center cinema, record store or bookseller has so few titles? It boils down to this: traditionally, movie studios, publishers and record companies tend to try (it doesn't always work) to create small numbers of 'big hit' products because the sunk costs of developing a film, book, or album can be more quickly and predictably recouped. Similarly, real space retail outlets (cinemas, city center record stores, booksellers) can only afford to sell 'hit' products because the relatively high cost of providing shelf or screen space for low-selling niche products makes it risky.

The long tail idea is that online distribution significantly reduces these costs, resulting in a sales/products curve like the one above. Because consumers can now be presented with a hugely expanded range of products, businesses can be built upon many products that have low sales, not just the traditional model - few products that have high sales.

Chris Anderson, a journalist, has been blogging the topic in the run-up to the publication of a new book on the subject in June 2006. Anderson writes:

'The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of "hits" (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers. In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly-target goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare.
One example of this is the theory's prediction that demand for products not available in traditional bricks and mortar stores is potentially as big as for those that are. But the same is true for video not available on broadcast TV on any given day, and songs not played on radio. In other words, the potential aggregate size of the many small markets in goods that don't individually sell well enough for traditional retail and broadcast distribution may rival that of the existing large market in goods that do cross that economic bar.
The term refers specifically to the yellow part of the sales chart at upper left, which shows a standard demand curve that could apply to any industry, from entertainment to hard goods. The vertical axis is sales; the horizontal is products. The red part of the curve is the hits, which have dominated our markets and culture for most of the last century. The yellow part is the non-hits, or niches, which is where the new growth is coming from now and in the future.
Traditional retail economics dictate that stores only stock the likely hits, because shelf space is expensive. But online retailers (from Amazon to iTunes) can stock virtually everything, and the number of available niche products outnumber the hits by several orders of magnitude. Those millions of niches are the Long Tail, which had been largely neglected until recently in favor of the Short Head of hits.
When consumers are offered infinite choice, the true shape of demand is revealed. And it turns out to be less hit-centric than we thought. People gravitate towards niches because they satisfy narrow interests better, and in one aspect of our life or another we all have some narrow interest (whether we think of it that way or not).'

Why is this significant? Well, there are several reasons, but I have categorized this post under the 'political economy of Internet media' heading because I think it says something new and very interesting about how the Internet contributes to a more diverse and pluralistic media landscape. Long tail trends in the media industries mean that minority niche products stand more of a chance of finding a market.

At the same time, though, there is one problematic aspect.

It would be interesting to find out how many products that qualify as 'long tail' are actually the product of divisions and subdivisions of large media and entertainment conglomerates. There may be a case for arguing that the long tail is exaggerated because there is greater product diversity but not greater structural diversity in the market. It could be that the arbiters of taste remain a small but powerful elite, it's just that they're employing a more segmented approach. An illustration of this is News Corporation's recent acquisition of MySpace.

Deleted Scenes #01: The Haunting of Geocities

Posted on Sat, Feb 11, 2006 at 1:17 AM by Andrew Chadwick

This planned Exhibit on the Haunting of Geocities was left out of the final version of Chapter 12: The Political Economy of New Media for reasons of contemporaneity and space.

Geocities, first founded in 1994, now owned by Yahoo!, is a web site hosting service. It provides free web space for non-commercial use, supported by banner advertising, to anyone wanting to set up a basic web site. The business model upon which the service was based was simple: in return for providing a home in cyberspace to ordinary web users, the company would sell advertising space to other companies wishing to reach the millions of eyeballs that would naturally be drawn to the many web sites (initially labelled 'homesteads') that would eventually find a place in the Geocities 'neighbourhoods'. By 1999, Geocities had increased the intrusiveness of its advertising, but it still enjoyed a massive user base, making it among the top five destinations on the web (Gurak and Logie, 2003: 34). In the same year, Yahoo! purchased the company, turning it into Yahoo! Geocities and immediately publishing new terms of service. This seemingly innocuous move caused outrage among a significant proportion of former Geocities users.

At issue was intellectual property. Who 'owned' the content of the hundreds of thousands of Geocities web sites? The original Geocities terms of service included certain requirements on the part of its members. The company reserved the right to take down commercial or offensive sites, for instance. But the company made no claim to ownership of the users' content. In stark contrast, Yahoo!'s new terms claimed the 'royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such Content (in whole or part) worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology nbow known or later developed' (quoted in Gurak and Logie, 2003: 34-35). This was an extraordinarily far-reaching claim, and one that understandably met with much resistance.

By the following day, thousands of Geocities members had expressed their disgruntlement with Yahoo! and had started to band together to protest against the move. Spearheading the campaign was an unemployed software developer named Jim Townsend. Townsend established a website and issued a manifesto urging fellow Geocities members to boycott the new Yahoo! service, raise the matter with the press and politicians, and undertake symbolic forms of online protest, such as creating and disseminating satirical banners and graphics.

By far the most effective protests came in the form of 'haunted' web sites. These took the form of ordinary Geocities members' sites that had been deliberately 'defaced' through the removal of content. Links to Townsend's site were displayed on many haunted sites, mainly due to the fact that his site rapidly emerged as the place to visit for updates and his critique of the Yahoo! terms of service. Within just two weeks, Townsend's site had received over one million hits and most major news media had picked up the story, resulting in the beginnings of an exodus away from Geocities. Yahoo! had responded by posting two revised terms of service, the second of which had proved acceptable to Lawrence and the protestors. Yahoo!'s revised terms withdrew from a claim to ownership of content and instead restricted use of members' content to 'displaying, distributing and promoting' Geocities sites (quoted in Gurak and Logie, 2003: 42). In the space of around nine days, Yahoo! had been forced to reverse its policy.


Gurak, L. J. and Logie, J. (2003) 'Internet Protests, From Text To Web' in McCaughey, M. and Ayers, M. D. (eds) Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice (Routledge, London).

BBC Google documentary

Posted on Mon, Jan 23, 2006 at 4:53 PM by Andrew Chadwick

The World According to Google

Last weekend's BBC television documentary about Google has been made available online at the BBC site. Don't expect any major surprises, but it is a useful digest of the company's origins, philosophy and business model. It also deals with the issue of click fraud, a potential threat to Google's dominance.

Update: just when we think Google's surprise-ometer has been turned down, it emerges that they have made a deal with the Chinese state to apply filters to their Chinese search engine. At the same time they are under pressure from the US Department of Justice to provide search logs to assist in investigations.

The political impact of blogs

Posted on Mon, Jan 23, 2006 at 4:11 PM by Andrew Chadwick

An excellent article by K. Daniel Glover at Beltway Blogroll on the political impact of blogs in the United States. It's packed with good examples, and has an evolutionary perspective that's often lacking in this area. Highly recommended.

For a surprising complement to this, see the recent article by former prime ministerial spinner Alastair Campbell enthusing about the power of the Net to reshape parties. Thanks to my third year student, Kerri Mackay for alerting me to this.

Technologies as complex ecosystems

Posted on Thu, Oct 13, 2005 at 5:41 PM by Andrew Chadwick

I was listening to the excellent TWiT (This Week In Tech) podcast the other day and was impressed by an argument made by Cory Doctorow, science fiction author and now EFF staff member, about technologies as 'complex ecosystems' with parasitical elements that contribute to their vibrance. In basic terms, the argument is that relatively 'open' technologies attract innovation, continuous improvement and development because they encourage parasitism. People pick up a technology, twist it, borrow elements from it, and hack together something different, better and newer. If technologies are relatively closed, they are less subject to this form of parasitism. Thus, it's better for all of us to have open technologies.

On the TWiT podcast Doctorow gave the example of the DVD format, which is very tightly restricted compared with, say, the CD. Thus, one of the reasons we have lots of innovation around the digitization of music is that the CD is an open format; it's easy to extract the data, compress it, move it, mix it, and republish it. Compare this with DVD, which, due to its restrictive nature (digital rights management), has not encouraged parasitism. He writes:

CD has a rich ecosystem, filled with parasites -- entrepreneurial organisms that move to fill every available niche. If you spent a thousand bucks on CDs ten years ago, the ecosystem for CDs would reward you handsomely. In the intervening decade, parasites who have found an opportunity to suck value out of the products on offer from the labels and the dupe houses by offering you the tools to convert your CDs to ring-tones, karaoke, MP3s, MP3s on iPods and other players, MP3s on CDs that hold a thousand percent more music -- and on and on.
DVDs live in a simpler, slower ecosystem, like a terrarium in a bottle where a million species have been pared away to a manageable handful. DVDs pay no such dividend. A thousand dollars' worth of ten-year old DVDs are good for just what they were good for ten years ago: watching. You can't put your kid into her favorite cartoon, you can't downsample the video to something that plays on your phone, and you certainly can't lawfully make a hard-drive-based jukebox from your discs.

The online text version of the argument is at Cory's website.

Open source and governance

Posted on Tue, Oct 04, 2005 at 2:07 PM by Andrew Chadwick

There's a brief interview on opendemocracy with Geoff Mulgan (former adviser inside Number 10, now at the Young Foundation) about open source as a democratic principle to guide governance. This comes on the back of his and Tom Steinberg's Demos pamphlet earlier this year. See also the paper I published (pdf) as part of a symposium on Jane Fountain's book Building the Virtual State in 2003, especially the sections towards the end. But more importantly, see the excellent book by Steven Weber which goes beyond the 'open source is inherently democratic' view. Some bits of open source method are democratic, some aren't.

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.

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

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.

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