Archive for the 'class notes' Category

Live Blog for 4/22/08


Today’s class aimed to settle once and for all whether or not there is a web difference. Our answer: 8.4. Here’s how we reached it. (Apologies to those designated as Student X; I’m no good with names).

The class started with a poll on whether students believe the web is different, on a scale of one to ten. As a point of reference, the “television difference” from radio is rated a 3. The average response came out to be 6.875.

Many justifications for scoring the web difference high on the scale were given:

Evan: Qualified his answer- internet has the potential for an 11, though it’s at a 7 now. Mainly because of the ease with which anyone can publish and distribute their creations.

Conor: Agrees internet hasn’t reached full potential. Big difference right now is how people can “self-actualize” on the internet, unlike any other media. People can create communities and have whole identities online.

Mr. Sanchez: Being born into it changes our perspective, but the way we access information now is dramatically different.

Damien: The web is uniquely unbounded in its potential, in contrast to the written word, which hasn’t really changed since the printing press. Distributed architecture is another unique feature.

Self-proclaimed digital immigrant student: The ability to connect with people and stay in touch with people worldwide is a remarkable feature of the internet.

Richard: An “alternative geography” is created online.

Aaron: The internet makes culture more participatory and critical.

Palfrey responds: The potential is there, but when you talk to digital natives, you find that only a very small percentage are actually “participating” in the creation and critique of culture online.

Corey scaled it in terms of the law. The law has had a uniquely difficult time dealing with the internet, indicating a large difference.

Sean: The anonymity granted by the internet makes people act differently, for better or worse.

Evan: The net has an incredible ability to form people into groups, for better or worse, though this potential may not have been realized yet.

Those who gave the web difference a low score on the scale gave their reasons:

Doug: Potential is high, but right now it’s a 6. Referencing Zittrain’s argument, the future of the internet may not be that bright if in response to security concerns, the environment becomes too constrictive to be generative.

Student A: The web is revolutionary as a content delivery system, but its networks, not the web that’s going to change people’s lives. Networked devices like iphones are going to make the big difference.

Meg: The web is currently constrained by norms from the analog world. Like Shirly’s point, the web may just be recreating heirarchies we already have in the analog world.

Student B: The web is an amplifier of things that we already have (publishing, social networking), more than a creator of something new.

Conor, who scored the difference at an 11, doesn’t like this point: Everything can be an amplification of something that came before it. There’s still something new here.

Vera: The scale differs across regions. In the United States, the internet has changed things less than in places like Iran.

Tom: The internet lets us know about what’s going on around the world, but that’s not such a big change from what we had before. It was a bigger change when the television showed us images from around the world that we never previously had access to.

Mariel: The extent to which people “live” on the internet is overstated. There are fundamental institutions in the analog world that have a greater impact on our real world life. No destruction of the “nation-state.”

Christina: The potential to change things like politics is there, but hasn’t been realized yet.

Related point: The tools are there to help people who are already involved, but the tools aren’t necessarily changing who is involved.

Justin: Only a small percentage of people have the internet, and of those the majority use the internet only as amplifier for things that they were already doing.

Damien makes a point that shifts the discussion: Rather than saying that it has the potential to be different, can’t we say that the potential itself is what is different? This leads us to a discussion of the significance of potential:

JP: One way to look at it is that there’s potential in the sense that there’s 5 billion people still don’t have the internet, and therefore there’s still a lot of potential changes for the web to make.

DW: There’s a different sort of potential, one which is built into the technology itself, which makes the web different.
This is the sort of potential that could be curtailed in the manner discussed by Zittrain.

JP: The rate of change regarding the way the internet is being used may itself be a difference.

Conor: If the internet can’t be a 10, because it can be controlled by the state or other institutions, then can anything really be a 10?

Mariel: A lot of the internet’s potential cannot be reached, or at least it can’t be taken for granted that it will be. Too many people are still so far from having access to it.

Tom: Look at microfiche- people thought that was going to change the world, but it never did. There’s no reason to believe that the hyperbole surrounding the internet will come true. It may just be human nature to see a greater potential in technology than will ever be realized.
Counter-argument: But if internet technology is truly generative, then the microfiche analogy doesn’t hold up. This would give the internet a unique sort of potential.

Kevin takes up JP’s point regarding the rate of change on the web as a difference: The rate of change has become so fast that institutions cannot keep up. The first actors are thus able to write the rules in a way that first actors in television and radio could not.

Sean: Can we separate a discussion of the web difference from the PC? Is the PC a limiting factor?

Justin: What about open source? In some sense this is an amplifier of cooperation that’s already been going on, but it still seems qualitatively different.

DW thinks that one’s answer to the web difference question may be a self-fulfilling prophecy: Believing that the web is different may lead to good political and legal effects, while believing otherwise will lead to bad (constraining?) effects. If you are a pessimist, then you miss opportunities to use the potential of the internet. Being an optimist will lead to maximization of the internet’s potential.

Doug: But it’s dangerous to be an optimist to the extent that you dismiss potential problems and regulations which may limit the internet.

A new vote was taken on the extent of the web difference. Potential is to be considered in this new vote, qualified by how likely people think that potential is to be realized. The new total was 8.4.

JP sought some closing comments by posing the question, What does this discussion mean for laws and regulations?

One position: Regulation of the internet is different in degree, rather than in kind from other sorts of regulation.

Pushback: Regulation on the internet is harder to enforce because actions are more diffuse.

Alternately, identifying wrongdoers may be easier on the internet because all of the evidence is available for those with the resources and will to find them. Can these two points be reconciled?

The class concludes. JP and DW exit the room to thunderous applause.

Class today: Voting on the Web difference


Warning: We’re likely to start off class today with a round-the-room vote on whether the Web is different, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 as the max difference. That should settle it! 🙂

Live Blog for Tuesday, April 15, 2008


The Web effect on politics?:

Apologies for misquoting, misstating, misrepresenting, and missing completely.

DW – a photographer is coming to shoot us because we are typical- (or good-) looking

DW shows us the Mike Gravel Helter Skelter X youtube video
He’s running for President as a libertarian, and today we are talking about whether the web makes a difference to politics.

We have a panel of experts, as well as a bunch of readings.

DW doesn’t have a grand thesis, but wants to go through the Dean campaign stuff.

First thing he’d like to look at is Jim Moore’s rise of the superpower. JM was running the show from VT in the last few months of Dean’s campaign, and it was definitely on his mind when he wrote this.

What does he mean?

He’s talking about a movement. He focused on policy initiatives and people reacting to certain things going on in the world. He mentioned people speaking out against the US government.

DW: The Second Superpower is a lefty progressive politics. How is it different from the first superpower (the US)?

To: Instead of armies or economic superpowers, it’s sort of a collection of people that get things done not through force but through collective effort.

DW: there have been such things before, such as nuclear disarmament movement. So what does he think is new about this?

Aa: There’s no real leader of it

Co: It’s like a school of fish or ants

DW: emergent democracy. What is that?

To: clustering and coping

DW: those are two examples of emergence, but what is the emergence they are talking about?

Co: new emergence is more direct, not as filtered

DW peculiar role of individuals in this. In the second superpower, individuals play a greater role. Back to emergence, which is a key term. If you’re looking at insects, there’s a problem because you can’t figure out how termites can bring about these beautiful nets. Their brains are smaller than the amount of brain we lose in a sneeze, yet they do this. But if u give them a simple rule, such as chew what’s in front of you, and spit to the left, and if you cant spit to the left spit up. This algorithm
Rise of unexpected phenomena out of a group that looks like chaos on the ground
The emergence of incredible complexity out of simple rules. You can’t predict what will happen because the interactions are too complex on first sighting.
You have much richer interactions in this new second superpower than simply the act of voting and it leads to structures. You don’t need a queen of the termites’ nest. It will happen not by magic but what happens through interaction. Ordered, coherent, w/o top down control.

Mi: didn’t see it the reading that way. There are some leaders.

Meg: Yes, but there aren’t three people in charge

KB: use of term second superpower is a false characterization. It’s a tool in the toolbox for everyone to use.

To: difference between the two articles. Moore sees the movement itself as leadership, and Johnson sees a need for more leadership. They are disagreeing about interpretation/looking at different aspects.

DW: Moore says Second superpower should be the balance to US.

KB: Second superpower would not exist if 1st superpower fell. They aren’t two separate things because very different

DW agrees

KB: difference in autonomy. 2nd depends on 1st.

DW this turns 2nd into a movement. Political parties are not a lot like movements. they’re move like corporations . They will change their product to stay in business. Moore gives as examples global warming, Kyoto, land mind movement (had Princess Dianna, but not a pres or a ceo)

Aa: I still have trouble with this… the power to do what? The iraq war? Bush getting elected?

Co – ability to set the gloabal agenda, what will be discussed and whats on peoples mind

KP– might think what they are talking about is what everyone is talking about but not true

Dw – lets say what moore says is true, what would happen

To – he says to think about the world bank, which could work closely with world organizations to get them on their on their side. Lobby the UN, American red cross, to try to get their policies implemented

DW: thinks toms aiming low. Why would lobbying work? What else?

Tom – I was being realistic. UN and world bank would become part of the movement, and eventually push peace, his ultimate goal

DW: I assume moore was thinking: he’s a left wingist progressive politics guy, work on Dean, really unhappy w one super power left in the world and many of their policies. Hoping there will be a distributed group of people that will have the same heft as the ones w the power. This distributed force in the world will consist of the best of the web, thus fulfilling the ideal of democracy beyond simply voting. Countervailing the force of the pursuit of power.
Less interested as a functioning political org as much as how a distributed group of ppl might take up politics

ToTtrippi – intro to his Dean campaign book. What did u think of it?

Ju: Didn’t know about Dean campaign, reminded me of obama.

To: – maybe a little self indulgent.

DW: makes sense for him to open w that given the circumstances

To – maybe not the truth

DW – I was involved in the campaign, and friends w trippi. A lot of controversy about his role in the loss. Many people thought he failed to mobilize ppl on the ground in iowa. But I can verify that he knew they were going to <s>win</s>lose. Is he describing Moores 2nd superpower?
A campaign run by the people.

Ri : just because people were enthusiastic doesn’t mean it’s a campaign run by the ppl.

DW: unclear what he means by campaign run by the ppl. He has a few examples, but not many and very repetitive.

KP – how is this diff from traditional web difference but w better technology. Is this fundamentally different?

DW: I believe it is. Give some examples?

KP – movement based around a particular idea.

DW: what I thought was different. When he describes elsewhere how dean campaign became an internet campaign, it was about how to raise the money, needed 100 mil, but might be possible to raise a little bit of money from a lot of ppl (long-tail) instead of doing sequential big events, so started thinking about the internet. Obscure governor raised tens of millions of dollars. Kerry campaign raised a boatload of money over the internet, but turned off other side of the dean vehicle. Doesn’t agree w term campaign by the people. (except maybe yellow bat example from the blog). If that’s what run by the people means then its not interesting.

Something else was going on: the campaign wanted it to be a peoples campaign w the recognition that the traditional way mitigates against that (extremely top down). Organizing foot soldiers. Extremely hierarchical, top down.

Reagn introduces the message of the day – very controlled, hierarchical
But can’t just reverse it. Because 680k ppl are too much for dean to listen to
So had the idea instead to enable the grassroots to talk amongst themselves and that works. Want to allow supporters to find each other. Techniques included use of, monthly real world mtgs, coordinated and encouraged by online activity. Drive ppl from web to face to face. And by inventing social networking software. Open source software to enable people to register, say where they are, what there interests are, so they can organize locally w each other, allowed thousand of groups to pop up, i.e. special interests (environment), howards for howard, etc.
And also put in a blog. Enthusiastic supporter dropped into the campaign and seemed unfiltered and uncorporatized. Evident in the blog and they allowed and encouraged talking about what mattered to people and allowed to argue.
Lack of control changed the campaign.
Not to say that people were running the campaign. Policies came top down but did try to create enthusiastic supporters of a relatively unknown candidate
Example: Campaign would get supporters to write to undecided democrats in iowa. Campaign consciously didn’t provide a template. Didn’t want ppl writing campaign sales literature. DW housed a writing party, and some of the stuff was horrible.

Agreement, disagreement?

KP: is that all different from a traditional structure of a campaign? Seems like a new and interesting way to build buzz about your candidate. Its not actually different, and even it were, its not that important

DW: it is shockingly diff from the normal way that campaigns are run, which are always all about control. Marketing campaign where u win by having a tightly controlled message that you spread.

One of the criticisms of Dean was not enough top down. Young foreigners coming into Iowa turned ppl off.

Ni: points out that the Dean website/blog became a mouthpiece after he started to fall apart.

DW – yes. Not entirely obvious why he was unable to cope

Aa – internet makes is easier to exploit make viral campaign gaffes, so can encourage campaigns to be more vanilla

DW: trippi went on to work for Edwards. “ I feel pretty” youtube clip. Edwards combing his hair before an interview. Edwards got asked bout it. Said he was human and had a moment of vanity. Trippi did a clip to “hair” from hair w a bunch of weird hair and asking, do u care about hair or about important issues
Is web making a difference at a natl level?

CK: the aesthetic of the campaign. Maybe not the policies. Works for obama bc his policy is not so standard. I.e. “yes we can” video – hiphop

Se – huckabee and clinton used it quite a bit. huckabee for his humor (chuck Norris). Hillary’s youtube campaign to make it a personal conversation – she does better in smaller settings. She’s sitting on couch; obama’s at a speech.

Da – interent has affected the campaign from without because everyone has to be on message at all times or the internet will kill them, ie b Clinton might’ve had trouble. Need even greater message discipline.

Me – humanizes, endorsements from people from way back when (hillary)

KB – humanizing and message discipline are different ends of something u have to weigh. Also, campaigning on the internet is ridiculously cheap on the internet. So the effect lends towards closer to perfect information for the votes because there’s more of it out there. Allows people to gain more support and fundraise in ways in which they couldn’t before. (ron paul)

To – you’re always on the record

Do – control over image lost for better or for worse.

Da – allows you to fight back to sound clips. Ie obama speech. Forces media to discuss it in a more nuanced way as well because now people have access to the entire speech and millions have seen it.

DW- political campaigns and marketing have been similar – keep it simple to reach as many people as possible, so diff to get a campaign to be more specific. Specificity costs votes, so tend towards simplicity, bumper sticker slogans. Web tends towards more complication. So the web allows propagation of sounds bites but also allows for more info. One more example: when hillary announced on her website that she was running, on a couch (cheaper than to buy a half hour of tv time but I also assume that she didn’t want to hand over to the networks which 15 seconds to play over and over)

Mi – I think message discipline is lost, but image control is not lost.

Ri – can put more stuff out, didn’t have as much control over image then, and harder to respond. Still a back and forth, but u get more control over your image in that sense

Ch/H– dilution of image as well – obama girl, yes we can, both help, but took down myspace site

Ju – shift, two front war vs mass media and individuals on internet

Se – people realize that hard to trust either front, so more interested in the candidates actual material – enhances control

Ch/H– the identity of the candidates is also encompassed by who supports them (yes we can video v lame hillary video)

DW – on one hand, in marketing, try to show your demographic driving the car, but fan w cam phone dilutes (person that leaked hair video). Perhaps control over image is the wrong question.
Question I want to raise – enabling trusting supporters to trust one another that is not a bunch of points relating up but more like a movement where we’ll all know eachother. Campaigns are out in myspace doing this stuff.

Ri – we just take it for granted at this point. We would be really surprised if a candidate didn’t have a forum, etc.

DW – the fact that people take it for granted is remarkable

What was on the board:

Aesthetics – hiphop, humor, personal, conversational, web meme, humanizes
Policy – not so much
Message discipline – net amplifies
More info for voters – fight against sound bites
Minor candidates can uyn
Control over image lost (for better or worse), lost, diluted, enhanced, shifting

Class Blog – April 8


1:00 Our guest today is Ethan Zuckerman. As is traditional when we have guests, we are going around to introduce ourselves. (But don’t think this means that I’m going to give you credit for any comments!) Andres is back again today as well. Ethan works at the Berkman Center on the Global Voices project. He is a “geek,” says JP.

1:10 JP wonders whether we are making a difference in the reshaping of the media environment. We want to take a skeptical look at whether the changes in media are also changing the world. Often we have a habit of saying there is a difference in the media, but not looking at whether this causes is a difference in the world. Perhaps the new media is just replacing the old media, with the outside world remaining the same. So how much of a difference is the Web and new media actually making?

1:15 Ethan shows us a video of Alisa Miller giving a talk on Global News. The video began with a graphic showing how US-centric the US media is (though there is a lot of news from Iraq, for obvious reasons). The video looked at why we don’t hear as much about the outside world. US media has cut back on its foreign bureaus – a factor of economics primarily. Alisa Miller works at PRI (public radio international). Like Miller, Ethan likes to map the content of information on the web – he looks at how many stories are about each country, and uses Google News to do this to get a rough count. Once he gets this rough counts, he considers other demographics about the countries. For example, he may compare how much trading we have with a country to how much media attention it receives. A nations income is the strongest indicator of how much media it will get, along with whether the US is militarily involved in that country.

1:20 Would we get the same distortion results from media outlets in other countries? We do see some distortions, everyone is parochial. A question arises though, what would news look like if it were fair? Do we need to know so much about Britney Spears? Is this helping us function in the global economy? This is the background of Ethan’s work: does the Web change this discussion? Does it change what newspapers do and don’t cover? Does it even matter?

1:25 This brings us to Global Voices. So many people put information on the Web. Does anyone bother reading it? We recall the Shirky graph, showing us that it is very few sites that get most of the attention. JP interrupts – are we just replacing an old hegemony with a new one? Answers seem to take the form of “it depends.” The turnover rate is higher, the number of alternate voices is higher, the information presented is broader but blending of soft and hard news – but with all of this information, does anyone even bother to find it? The barrier to entry is so low, but does anyone cross the line?

1:30 The question then goes to whether there is value is just knowing that the information is out there, even if we don’t read it. How do we get people to want to read the information that is out there? How to we get people to be engaged?

1:40 Global media has a collection layer and a distribution layer. The collection layer, made up partially by AP and Reuters, are very international in their design, but it is very difficult to get an organization to break away from the stories that these agencies deem to be the most important. Ethan’s point is that the blogosphere is essentially the same. They mirror the stories in mainstream media, with a few exceptions. Is there a possibility of changing the agenda through the internet as it relates to the mainstream media?

1:45 A point is made that we are trained early to be western centric – our history classes are taught with a US and Western Europe focus. Right now, in the blogosphere, the three big topics are technology, politics, and beautiful women. There is no problem in getting people to pay attention to this, but how do we get people to pay attention to other things?

1:50 JP wonders what the agenda of the blogosphere is. In the Iran paper, one thing that was clear was the clusters of people that talked about specific topics in Iran, and that they were different than what we expected. There were a large number dealing with high cultural things.

1:55 The interesting thing is that the secular/reformist voices became very popular within the right wing American blogosphere. This was because there is a belief that the opening of the Internet would bring a flourishing of democracy. The Iranian study kind of showed that that was wrong – and that we perhaps have that viewpoint because we have a distorted view (based on mainstream media) of the Iranian blogosphere. The other parts of the Iranian blogosphere are the more interesting parts.

2:00 Global Voices is designed to give a lot of information about parts of the world that don’t get a lot of attention in US mainstream media. However, it’s hard to get people to pay attention to it, and it’s even harder to get mainstream media to pay attention to it. People in our class who looked at different countries on the GV website were surprised by how little they knew about other countries.

2:10 How is GV doing with its mission? Its loved by journalists who want to change the media. Technologists have a problem with it because it is edited on so many levels – by choosing the people who report, by them choosing the blogs to report on, etc. They claim this isn’t “web 2.0.” But do things like Digg and Reddit make the problem of US-centric fluff news worse?

2:20 GV, though it doesn’t have a large audience, tends to reach more journalists and intelligence officials. Does quality matter more over quantity? Should GV be targeting the general public or a small segment of the world who can then reach more people? The press is given special protections because we recognize that they serve a specific function, and have a responsibility to serve us broccoli (the news we should want to get news about).

2:25 We see a video produced about the riots in Nepal, and the western media’s portrayal of the riots. Interesting to see the comments. Right now, the BBC is reporting on anti-BBC sentiment in China, saying they must be being directed by the Chinese government. But maybe there is legitimate anger at the BBC for the way they portray China and the Chinese people. Western media has a hard time picking up news that is contrary to the mainstream viewpoints. So a challenge exists to bring different stories and perspectives to western media.

2:30 JP’s last words – what’s the right question to be asking within the Internet democracy framework within our last few weeks of class? Ethan suggests we look at which Web we’re talking about when we discuss the changes its bringing, because there are other Webs beyond the western web.

Note on Blogging


(notes from Richard who is having posting issues)


(I made no attempt to credit specific people with ideas/comments, sorry. If you really want credit, feel free to mention it in the comments to this post. –Richard)

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

Liveblog Class 18


Tuesday, April Fools….
Class 18: Is the Web a Mass Medium?

We had a visitor today – Andres Cavelier who is a Nieman Fellow

JP presented a slideshow from the Berkman center. The mainstream media feels that its revenues are declining quickly because of websites like Craigslist who draw advertised stuff to the online space and lead to a decline in eyeballs, interest and revenue.

The web democratized the media without a corresponding increase in revenues.

What will converged media look like if this trend continues? There are high costs to media business and less revenue coming in. We may love the democratizing idea of having different kinds of news out there but maybe there’s not enough revenue to support serious newspapers.

What is this web diff? Better world or worse world? What intervention needed to make better?

JP showed us a diagram of the different models of media outlets – divided by professional/amateur and for-profit and nonprofit.
– Professional and for profit – NYT
– amateur and for profit – Utube
– Huffington Post is more in the middle – for profit but relies on a mix of professional and volunteer.
– Nonprofit and professional – Consumer reports/NPR
– Nonprofit and volunteer – wikipedia, global voices
– :Vocalo in the middle – non-profit but has some paid contributors and stories from the public and volunteers

(Factors like paid/unpaid, edited/not edited is relevant to the professional/amateur distinction)

The following are different models of media outlets. *note – these are US model where governments are not involved or controlling media outlets

Publisher Model. This is the traditional one – reporters who are paid, commentators who are paid, editors are paid, publisher is the entity which gets money and then the audience is the recipient and pays for it through money or ads

News Agency Model: Reporters are paid, commentators, editors, and usually sell to other media buying the stuff. So Reuters is collected and then other media (NYT) buys it and release it with the rest of the info out to the public who pays for it
– the difference b/w Publisher and News Agency Model is blurred more in online space – not single edited publication and there are some volunteer voices in these too

News Aggregator model – reporters, editors, publishers who will distribute directly to audience and will also send to the company structure aggregator, who also releases to the public

Author-centric Model: the reporter straight to the audience – the blogger

Audience Contribution Model – the publisher and the audience interact – the audience will distribute and receive and recreate info.

Public Media – (BBC) – the money going to the publisher is through grants and sponsors etc

Online newspaper

Blogosphere – expands to large complicated system and harder to describe. Often is responding to mainstream media, not always own stories. A reporter will lead to commentators, then distributed and then to audience and will then respond back to distributors

Newspaper Story Picked up by Bloggers – money flows at the top of the main story and no money flowing at the bottom by the blogs picking up the stories and comments

Citizen Report to Mass Audience – activists to bloggers and then send to large media outlets, and there the money flows

Ecosystem – very complicated and a series of things happen simultaneously. When put vector of time over it, more complex.

JP Questions:
1. What moves can one make in order to get there? Legal, Market, etc?

QUESTION 1: As we imagine the informational environment, what attributes do we want it to have? What design Critera?
– Accuracy – truth
– Timely
– Diversity:
o Perspective (try to get at objective but brings one’s views so good to have diff voices on one event),
o Topic (trivial, serious, international),
o Format: want an audience to be as big as it can be and then allow the info to filter through.
• Sunstein argues that if you had a Daily Me – you can choose exactly what you want to hear. If have much diversity of info and then can choose what want, ppl will choose what reinforces their own views and not get variety of ideas
o Both free and paid-for media so ppl ca n both access the news and those who are more interested in a smaller topic have the option to pay for targeted specialization (like Miami Herald v. Bloomberg)
– Responsiveness to audience.
– Accessibility to audience (which may or may not improve our democracy):
o Through diverse format (above)
o Readable, exciting description
o Cheap/free
– Independence from regulation and state control, and advertisers
– Make effort not to lose local content
o Polled the class and no one seems to pay for local papers, though a few read them for free. Perhaps we are not representative of larger society though, and local papers are suffering tremendously in the age of the web
o Can making their ads more sophisticated to target smaller niches save the local paper?
– Empowering
– No government funding – but does every time the government funds the media, will it be impossible to neutral?

QUESTION 2: What moves can we make in order to get to this description?
– There is a tension b/w accuracy and timeliness.
– We have less diversity of perspective now – instead of many diff versions of a story where e/o had an international bureau, now there is only 2 or 3 out there. While this may be economically efficient it may not be supportive of marketplace of ideas in way we want.

Class 14: Knowledge and Metadata


Metadata is information about information

Passing around a copy of the New York Times the class highlights what in the paper is metadata. David Weinberger, who is leading the class, wonders why no one chose to highlight the headline as metadata, which boldly proclaims Spitzer’s indiscretions (John Palfrey suggests it was perhaps too seedy for us!). The problem is that the headline can be data itself, we even have headine news. But the headline is also imparting information about the information in the article which makes is a borderline case, it tells you about the article only if you choose to read it. Is the font size information? Metadata? Yes, it tells you in all caps this guy screwed up big. Placement on the page is also metadata. So the newspaper itself is metadata, even the difference between NYT online and the paper version in terms of space. The fact that something appears in the print version gives us information about the article because there is limited space (claims of all the news that’s fit to print notwithstanding). Does the space between words tell us something? (other than the dominance of oppressive mainstream gramatical structures!) Spaces are metadata because they show you the end of the information you care about, you are told this is the end of the word.

Existential Crisis Alert after the jump

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

Class 13: Ownership and Knowledge (sorry for the oversimplification and longevity)


Can anyone “own” knowledge? Does the web make us think differently about the nature of ownership of information or expression?

Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences has passes a motion for Open Access to Scholarly Articles and Harvard Law School is considering a similar policy.

Junior faculty members consistently face the battle with tenure; the main requirement is to have an article published in a scholarly journal. Professors sometimes spend years waiting for an article to be published; one’s article must be accepted by a journal, peer reviewed and then published. Before being published an author must agree to a licensing agreement

Traditional Publishing Paradigm; author gives up copyright to journal

Stage 0: If the professor post working papers online. Most contracts restrict the author’s ability to direct students to working papers online. Well-accomplished journals will have contract that ensure that a previous work on the article cannot be made available author, but they are unable to control the SSRN.

Stage 1: Making of the License
Professor will give article along with rights to journal. In return author will receive intangible rewards including prestige and tenure.

Stage 2: Library buys article
Journal receives money from the library in return for a copy of the journal. Hardcopies are cheaper than online forms.

Stage 3: Professor 2 wants to use article for class
Journal receives money from the professor in return for allowing the professor to use it in his course pack.

Stage 4: Another author wants to put article in his book
Journal receives money from the author and the author is allowed to include the article in his or her book.

The traditional publishing paradigm benefits the journal much more than the professor. The market allows for the journals to conduct price discrimination. Journals are value added: they collect and present articles conveniently, have access to related work and know professor 2 in stage 3 for peer review. Faculty members have to pay for articles in stage 3 and are rarely allowed an allowance for their own article (Harvard Business School has recently allowed for authors to receive 100pdfs). While wealthy universities give allowances to their faculty for this purpose, sometimes students have to pay for the articles when buying for course packs. This is a case for journals ownership of knowledge.

University-Research relationship and Copyright law

Traditionally faculty is in work for hire contract. University split the money made off research, faculty remain happy and university will improve endowment and reputation. (Ex: Stanford benefiting from Google). As long as universities can assert rights from under copyright law, parties will usually bargain for a result that is beneficial for both parties. Although universities’ probably do not have rights to undergraduate work the line becomes fuzzy at the level of graduate work.

Open Access Grant Paradigm

Stage 1: License
Professor enters a contract with the university to grant licenses in return for the university giving the author access to the collection. University may make article open to the public. Old may still have control of the articles prior to Open access, but will not have exclusivity right to article not published under open access. All journals will have the same rights as before, but will reap less benefits then before

• Ex: FAS Open Access Agreement
o Nonexclusive (grant to as many people as the university wants and does not exclude journals)
o Worldwide
o Paid up (no additional consideration)
o Irrevocable (once the author contract with university: he or she may not take it back)
o Restriction on grant: right to distribute except for profit (exception under stage 3, where the professor uses an article in course pack)

Stage 2: Libraries
Libraries will continue to pay for journals, because they will be unable to receive the all the articles through open access. As open access grows, journals will receive less income from hard and soft copies.

Stage 3: Professor 2
Professor 2 will not longer be paying for open access articles in course packs

Scenario 1: Faulty may opt-out of Open Access under FAS and proposed HLS agreements

Some non-tenured professor may want to be published in elite distinguished articles and have the option to opt-out of open access. Deans want to keep their faculty happy and are glad to have there article published in elite journals A problem may arise if the dean does not want the article published in a particular journal. JP ask is this automatic waiver better and does this action violate the reasoning behind open access? Is the waiver better, because it saves on transaction cost? Is it easier for Harvard to take this stance because Harvard has prestige, that elite journals consider their value added.

Scenario 2: The effects of every faculty having open access

Will elite market-leading journals go out of business?

JP and class say no. Rather these journals will create a new business model. They may not be able to reap the benefits from owning the exclusive rights to articles, but they will still have exclusive rights to older articles. The Value Added that is intrinsic in journals remains: journals are a gateway and filter that separates the good from so-so articles through peer review. Elite journals may begin to compensate peer-reviewers, this may create overzealous reviewers and a push for more profitable work, but maintaining a good reputation of brand and of profession can combat these two pitfalls. A related example is CNN, Fox and MSNBC remaining in world full of bloggers. Although Carl Malamud is preparing a database the will put an end to companies profiting off of free government documents.…). Another alternative suggested is for elite journals to create scarcity as it relates to the relationship; professors may only peer review for certain journals. (For more understanding of compensation read Fischer Chapter 6 alternative compensation system).

Scholarly Societies

Forces Societies to focus on receiving income from conferences rather than journal.

Open Access Grant Paradigm for Harvard Law School

The difference between FAS and HLS is that law journals are mostly student run.

Stage 1: License
Law Journals receive several variations on the amount of rights they receive. Some journals may have exclusivity right for a year. While other produce a hard copy, sell a soft copy to an online index and put up a free copy on their website. In return professors receive subciters and prestige. In addition both side receive the features above in Stage 1 of Open Access Grant Paradigm.

Stage 2: Libraries
Law Journals receive money from the libraries when they buy hard copies or buy a access to an online index. In addition both side receive the features above in Stage 2 of Open Access Grant Paradigm.

Stage 3: Prof 2
If a professor is not a member of the open access community and the university has not opened the article to the public, the rate of the article is set by the law journal and determine by size and scope of distribution
How Does Open Access Affect Law Journals?

Considering the fact that most law journals immediately put up a free online version following release, the affect is small. Law Journals can still sell to indexes, because they make it easier for customers to access more articles through archiving and creating classifications. Law Journals have other sources of income. (Example: Harvard Law Review and the Bluebook and other journals have sponsors)

Arguments Against Open Access and Questions Remaining (by JP and the class)
• Could seriously damage student journals
o Smaller and newer journals who make money strictly off of book sales
• Law Reviews may require professors to submit waiver along with article, therefore they will not accept some articles
• Irrevocable
o What if some publisher wants to put an article into a book that he will sell for profit, but will not include article if he cannot reap the benefit
• Is there a problem with professors deciding to opt-out
o Will professors be judged on decision?
• Why do we need Open Access if most law journals already have online?
o Is there a values in saying that we want information to be free, to encourage other fields to do the same
• Want a deposit of knowledge

Further Reading
Jean-Nicolas Druey, “Information Cannot be Owned.” (an argument for free information)
Open Access for HLS…

Class 12 – Is Science Changing?


1:04 PM

The Final Paper

John Palfrey (JP): Notes that some people have begun asking about the final paper. He says to think of final paper in cosmic, David Weinberger sense, less literal and more filled with possibility

Three options

-Can be ordinary law school 15-20 page paper

-Take some bit of law and doctrine, analyze in terms of broad themes of class, propose something that has gone wrong

-Don’t do straight descriptive thing – e.g. comparison of act in two different countries through close reading

-Something speaking in some way to whether or not the web is different

-Can also do something less like a law school paper

-e.g. Could pick up cartesian theme and talk about why web is different without ever talking about part of doctrine

-but must say something, shoot for originality

-Could also do something that’s the equivalent of 15-20 page paper but is more creative.

-e.g. video testimony before FCC

-something using the web in someway, perhaps jumping off from one of the group projects

If category one or two, 20 pages, not absurd margins, not absurd font. Bluebook not required, but consistency required. Don’t be annoying.

What is the equivalent amount of effort for category three?

-JP is more interested in force of the argument, than in exactly what is done

-bounce idea off him

-If want to do something like Lessig 08, ask JP and he’ll ask Aaron Swartz (sp?)

Can be linked to class project, that’s a good thing. Engagement with issue over long period of time is a good thing

JP and DW would be happy to sit down and discuss ideas

Connection to clinical is desirable but not required

Discussion about Zittrain Class’s Work on Wikipedia

First, discussion about link sent around about Jonathan Zittrain’s class’s work on wikipedia.

Brief history

-For part of Zittrain’s class, an early assignment was to edit part of wikipedia. A week later they talked about dispute resolution on wikipedia and how that works. Assignment for the class to, with a group of others, pick a disputed article, post on the talk pages, and try to get that dispute resolved.

-Bunch of students decided to work on waterboarding article. Decided to take advantage of one person’s more extensive edit history, she proposed starting from defining torture and then going from there.

-Some people very actively follow this debate. They responded to the class’s edits. A couple of people in the HLS group responded to that. Some of those wikipedia editors who care a lot about this issue noticed that a bunch of people were all chiming in and that all accounts were created recently. Accused LT of being a sock puppet.

-Then argument moved to incident report section. LT responded by saying they were a bunch of students and pointed out wiki about the class (class wiki is now locked).

-The regular wikipedia editors noticed that it was a course project. Then question about whether they were meat puppets (collusion outside wikipedia)

-Some people also upset because felt like this was an experiment

-Counter argument was that isn’t it good to get these students involved

-Never actually touched the page, just talked about it on the talk pages

David Weinberger (DW): Is this wikipedia at its worst or its best?

-Different reactions by students

-Pretty impressed with the whole thing. All transpired over an evening. Cooler minds prevailed and whole thing became rational very quickly.

-Public historical reference – Can see whole thing online, how it was resolved. And its fast too

-Also sees as wikipedia as it best. Probably same thing happens inside closed doors at Encyclopedia Britannica

-A little disappointing to see people keeping others from working together.

-Likes seeing fast response

-Doesn’t this result in not so great articles? At least at Britannica someone wins

-But things are muddled everywhere

-Good to at least recognize that there are differences.

-DW-doesn’t to be much debate over content for Britannica

-Student reaction-wikipedia encourages people to do further research

-Debate over “Georgia” on wikipedia – should it go to Georgia the state or Georgia the country, and if there is disambiguation page, which should be more prominent

DW: When it comes to the nature of knowledge, there really is a web difference. Web has done something significant to nature of knowledge

-Web has unsettled all knowledge, just about. Not just wikipedia. Can’t help but run across unsettling facts, even if you dismiss them. Nothing is as settled as we thought it was. Not nearly as sure that science has changed as much

JP: Is this just a problem of seeing the sausage being made?

DW: Could be that seeing the sausage being made we see how great it is or that we become suspicious of all sausage. Either is possible and either is a change about how we generally think knowledge works.

Science and the Web Difference

DW: Nature – most prestigious science journal, at least in England. They’ve been very jealous of their reputation, but also aware of the web and quite interested in taking advantage of changes that are occurring

-Print version is very different.

-Forums, closer to a real time interactive dialog. Podcast, multimedia.

-Web site is more fun

-trying to spread their influence

-Its arguable that this populizing science is a difference

Nature Precedings

-pre-publication research and preliminary findings

Discussion of law reviews

-Whether it makes sense for other disciplines to be edited by professors, law to be edited by students

-Students more willing to look at footnotes

-Professors know more
-PhD Programs have far fewer students

What does open access mean to law reviews? Next week

Why peer review?

-What does it do?

-Gives legitimacy to paper



-Can prevent publication of novel/unpopular ideas

-Experts chosen are well-established. Because they’re well established, generally agree with dominant view

-see String theory – could all be wrong

Sokol affair-got purposefully bad paper through. Also MIT grad students got paper that was randomly generated into conference

JP: How is that different because of the web?


-Couple years old, open access

-Peer reviewed, try to keep rejection level high

-increases reputation so prominent scientists will publish there

-Results in a high price – rejects good papers

PLoS One

-Peer reviewed, but publishes anything that passes peer review

-A few years old. Grandparent of a lot of this.

-Started out as simple repository of papers.

-No peer review. Pre-pubication

-Imposed requirement a few years ago that must have some academic standing

-What does that mean?

-must be affiliated with an academic institution

-have published there

-OR be recommended be someone affiliated with an academic institution

-Why? Keep conspiracy theorists, etc. out

Any way to get advantages of peer review without limitations on time/energy?

-maybe let people comment.

-but doesn’t give same cache

-and any idiot can comment

Is the bias issue the same on the web?

-in world of paper, need some sort of regime of control to narrow the funnel. Peer review results in things that are legitimate, have status, and is fairly efficient.

-but on web, risk inaccuracy since hasn’t been checked.

-Tradeoff between amount and quality

-DW-not clear we have to make decision on the web about what we’re going to do

-look at PLoS, PLoS one, and arxiv

-Don’t know this changes science

-we have access to more information, but not sure this is a fundamental change

DW:One possible area of change. How Nature has re-conceived its role in science’s effect on culture?

Monday’s class notes (long post!)


Monday, March 3, 2008

Today’s topic was “Knowing on the Web.” For the first part of class, we delved into the murky world of philosophy, talking about the history of knowledge and Descartes’ Meditations. We finished by examining several controversial Wikipedia entries and the accompanying discussion threads.

Perfection and the Web
David Weinberger (DW) began class by bringing up the perfection-related idea we talked about last time: that the Web is always a little “broken.” DW thinks this is important because we tend to think systems “work” when they approach perfection: the more perfect they are, the better they are. But this is actually a trick we play on ourselves by defining what is “broken.” We could interpret a busy signal or 404 page as a sign that the system is broken, but we don’t do that. DW suggests that much of what’s good about the Web comes from the fact that it doesn’t even pretend to aim for “perfection.” We could have easily built into the architecture of the Web a mechanism by which broken links don’t show up as hyperlinks. But the cost of reworking that architecture would be so high that, in attaining a more perfect Web, we would end up with a very different Web.

DW then asked us to come up with other examples of things that can be taken as “imperfections” on the Web — things that are not controlled, but could have been. Tom pointed to errors in newspaper articles that we know are mistaken, but we leave up as a historical record of the error. This led us to wonder: how often do bloggers take down or edit posts they later learn are mistaken?

In an informal poll of bloggers in the class, we found out that sometimes bloggers go back and change mistaken posts, sometimes not. It may depend on whether the error is content-related, or grammatical. Things like getting names or genders wrong can be embarrassing, and DW and others often just fix those. But the students (i.e. Kevin) who don’t strike mistaken posts said they don’t do it to make sure readers don’t “think they’re going crazy.” DW said he sometimes leaves visible errors in case people try to link to it, and cited the craziness factor (i.e. “I could have sworn Chris was a guy!”). This is certainly an example of leaving the Web imperfect because it’s better that way. Another example of that, as Justin reminded us, was the “flaw” in MySpace code that allowed MySpacers to design their own pages in html.

Cutting against this idea that leaving “mistakes” online is a good thing, Dorcas noted that most people don’t bother to remove the mistaken or outdated parts. This can mislead people who get to that page thinking it’s fresh. DW pointed out that there would be ways to minimize this, but that in doing so we’d lose a lot of valuable info.

Another student questioned whether this “mistakes” thing is really a web-specific difference, and argued that these things happen with print media too. I argued the other side – I do think there’s a web difference here. Because it’s easier to make corrections, people online have a greater expectation that corrections will be made. (Although perhaps people often expect mistakes online in a way they don’t with traditional media – as DW pointed out, making it easier to publish also makes it easier to publish mistakes.)

This part of the discussion concluded with most of us recognizing that systems make decisions about the proper balance of control and accuracy. CNN makes these kinds of decisions all the time: they may “get it wrong,” but they can go back later and correct. Typically, though, CNN will want more control than, say, DW wants to have over his blog.

Knowledge: history and meaning

We then took up the question of knowledge: what is it really, and where does it come from?

(DW got pretty excited about using his “visual aid,” which led to a brief but animated discussion about various outdated media like overhead projectors.)

He showed us a USA Today crossword puzzle that he himself (and not a research assistant!) had completed – much to John Palfrey’s surprise. (Perhaps law school professors have become too reliant on RAs?) Anyway, the right answer to the “have no doubts” clue was “know.” But DW pointed out that knowledge didn’t start out that way – as being about certainty. It began as a practical distinction ancient Greeks had to make in everyday political life. In Athens, citizens (at least rich, white, land-owning ones) could get up and argue their views to the people. But some way of sorting out the stupid opinions from the interesting ones was needed. This is how philosophers started out investigating the meaning of “knowledge.” It wasn’t enough that what the person said was TRUE – the person had to be “justified” in believing it. Most of the subsequent philosophical efforts centered on the meaning of justification.

DW then asked us what “true” means. Is it “true” that John Palfrey has a Thinkpad? Yes. We could see “true” as meaning “everyone can/ would/does agree on it.” But we could also see it as being independent from what people think, and being purely about existence (Conor’s view). Yelena thinks it includes both objective and subjective components.

DW drew some interesting figures on the board, one representing a person’s head (the “knower”), and another representing a laptop (the world). He suggests that if the statement represents or matches the world, then it’s “true.” Kevin points out that it’s not the thought that’s true; it’s more like running an experiment – determining truth doesn’t require people. The experiment verifies the claim, and the process is what makes something true. DW said that there’s lots of debate about this stuff, but reiterated that truth requires some type of correspondence between the statement and the world. This is called the “correspondence theory of truth,” and it’s dominated Western culture for many centuries.

Descartes and his Meditations
We then turned to discussion of Descartes’ Meditations. Damien outlined Descartes’ basic idea: he wants to question the veracity of everything that isn’t verifiably true. To that end, he starts on a project: can he tell whether he’s awake versus dreaming?

Conor elaborated on how Descartes goes about this project in the Meditations. Descartes eliminated all thoughts or beliefs that were based on potentially fallible sources. For example, anything he gets through his senses is potentially faulty because his senses have deceived him in the past.

So, in Meditations, Descartes goes through a process thinking he can examine all his beliefs. Senses are out because they’ve fooled him before, and could fool him again. DW asked: why don’t we doubt our senses the way Descartes did? JP suggested that it’s because we’re not philosophers… Richard said it’s because we don’t care whether what we’re getting from our senses is “fundamentally true” – we are pragmatists and the senses work for us most of the time. Yelena added that we trust our senses out of necessity – there are no alternatives, except paralysis. Finally, another student noted that we’re usually right about our senses, and when we’re wrong, we learn from it – so it’s a workable system of reliance. There’s a difference between mistakes in our senses and random hallucinations.

DW then asked: how can Descartes doubt that 2+2=4? Doesn’t he “know” that for sure? Damien responds by saying that this part depends on Descartes’ belief in a deity – someone who could arrange the world in a way that would completely convince him of its truth.

Then, after a very confusing moment about whether 2+2 really does equal 4, DW brought up the idea of “the malignant demon.” (Apparently Descartes had to talk about this as a demon because of the religious constraints of the time – one couldn’t talk about God as being deceptive.) DW asks why Descartes engaged in this extreme experiment (so extreme that he was doubting whether he has hands!). (Ultimately Descartes goes on to discover “I think, therefore I am,” and on the basis of that, he’s able to build back everything he reasonably knew before. DW admits that it doesn’t hold together very well.)

So again — why do this crazy experiment? One student used the analogy of creating art on a blank canvas – you need to start with a clean slate. Richard added that Descartes seems to be cutting it all down to the most basic thing that can’t be disproven – he’s creating a super-strong foundation for the “building,” which makes it harder to refute.

On a side note, DW asked: how helpful is Descartes’ method for making political decisions? The answer seems obvious: not very. We tried to envision two politicians debating, and then one asking, “How do we know we’re all here?” Suffice it to say that we don’t need that kind of certainty in the political realm.

Stepping back, DW concluded that Descartes was aiming for the perfection of knowledge. But the problem is that, in seeking such perfection, you end up with basically nothing. And the only way Descartes is able to build it back up is by saying that God wouldn’t allow him to be wrong about various things (his senses, for example). Descartes has tried to say the only things we can put in the “knowledge” category are those which pass the really strict test. And over time, the bar of certainty has been continually raised. We circled back to the crossword puzzle, which defined knowledge as that which we know for sure – it’s about certainty, not justification.

Phew. After all this profound talk of philosophy and Descartes, we turned to Wikipedia.

Wikipedia and “knowledge”
We started with Shakespeare’s sonnets. The Encyclopedia article is mostly about the sexuality of the object of the sonnets. DW was surprised that the article might as well have been called, “Just how gay are the sonnets?” The Wikipedia article is much different. It lists a number of “contenders” for the mysterious W.H., for example, instead of simply saying who it was.

Then we talked about the discussion section attached to the Wikipedia article. Apparently most of the discussion centers on the identity of W.H., but also on the sexuality of Shakespeare himself (and what to say about it). There’s a question of whether or not the W.H. question should even be talked about at all in an article about the Sonnets. So even settling the fact – who is W.H.? – wouldn’t necessarily settle the issues. (Christina was initially impressed that the Wikipedia community was keeping all these comments up, but it turns out that you can’t delete discussions…who knew?)

The discussion pages raise the broader issue of the purpose of Wikipedia entries. Is it just about presenting competing views (what other people have said is true)? Or is it about presenting “truth”? DW made the point that there are decisions being made about what’s a mainstream dispute and what’s not. (For example, there’s very little discussion about Shakespeare’s death date.)

We then moved from Elizabethan England to Colonial America to talk about Sally Hemings. The controversial issue was whether she was the mother of Jefferson’s child. The Wikipedia discussion was interesting in that there was no real consensus or closure about this stuff. There was also lots of talk about the DNA evidence – and that there were four Jefferson males who could have been the father. DW thought it was interesting that this is all back in the discussion page and not on the entry page. Others commented on the debate over the more stylistic aspects of the piece (opening with “Sally Hemmings was the chambermaid of Thomas Jefferson” etc.).

Chiming in appropriately, JP talked about his interviews w/ young people in which he and Dana ask how students start research projects these days. Most said they start with Google and then Wikipedia, linking to external sources for verification. But, interestingly enough, they almost never edit the entries, even when they find mistakes. He wonders why more people don’t edit (other than the alleged group of drunk German grad students at the helm).

DW said that in all of these controversial articles, there are statements put forward as the clear truth; and then there are statements qualified by phrases like “some believe that.” We looked at the Swiftboating entry for signs of these “weasel words” (which Kevin argued were not as commonplace as DW suggested). “Were criticized” was one example. Conor gave us an overview of the Swiftboating discussion pages: most of the argument was about the appropriateness of the introductory paragraph. As for the article, DW thought that it wasn’t an unreasonable presentation of the basic issue.

Finally, the JFK assassination page. Students noted that the tone of the discussion is pretty contentious, especially with regard to the authority of the Warren Commission report. Evan suggested that this article is an outlier. He would compare it to the 9/11 conspiracy theories and the corresponding Wikipedia pages. (DW explained that a separate assassination page was created because the JFK page was getting overridden with conspiracy theories.)

Class ended with DW posing a broader “web difference” question: what is the analog in the real world for what we’re seeing here in the discussion pages of Wikipedia? Justin suggested that it is talking to friends and reading books. But DW said he doesn’t know anyone with the depth of knowledge and obsession demonstrated in these Wikipedia discussions. Another analogy was made to peer review in academia.

Ultimately we were all left wondering whether Wikipedia has any kind of analog in the non-Internet world. Is knowledge all about certainty? Do you only “know” something if you can logically justify why? Are traditional notions of perfection simply inapplicable to the internet – and is that a good thing? These were all questions we addressed in class, and ones we’ll no doubt revisit throughout the remainder of the course.