Archive for the 'culture' Category


The Washington Post has a really fascinating (and entertaining, especially for people who are familiar with the DC area) article speculating what Washington might look like in 2025: “Washington’s Future, a History.” Technology, communication, and the Internet play a major role in influencing where and how Washingtonians live in the future, at least according to the author’s view. (And for everyone who is studying for final exams, this is a good study break!)

Can PR Save the Beijing 2008 Olympics?


“Can PR Save the Beijing 2008 Olympics?”

This blog usually covers a number of the topics that came up during our class discussion with DW on Astroturfing and Marketing “Conversations” and this whole entry, including the comments, relates to the conversation with Ethan Zuckerman about Western Media Bias and the Chinese Olympics.


Facebook-era politics: more talking? or just more clicking?


This blog has a post talking about a panel discussion hosted by NYU entitled “How the Web is Changing American Politics,” which featured Arianna Huffington, among others. (Politics group, I tried to see if this was on your blog/ wiki but couldn’t find it…sorry if I’m duplicating anything!) From the blogger’s account, it seems like it was all about how great Obama’s campaign has been about using Facebook and other social networking sites to his advantage — rather than about a more fundamental impact on politics. Then again, maybe online social networking IS a fundamental change in politics. This post raises a few questions about Facebook-era politics and its implications.

First, in social networking sites’ advent onto the political scene, are we entering an era where Americans wear their votes on their sleeves much more than before? And if so, does that matter?

We’ve been talking a lot about how grassroots approaches are more en vogue than ever, in part because of the Web…but I wonder if the other side of that is that voters “pick sides” more conspicuously — by joining Facebook groups, becoming a “supporter” of their favored politician, etc. (I know I have been much more up front about my allegiances this time around, largely because of Facebook.) This may not be a bad thing if it means more people are engaging with the issues and contributing to the political debate. On the other hand, I think there’s a legitimate concern that social networking sites might lead to politics becoming more of a superficial popularity contest. Now that people can broadcast their political preferences with the click of a button, I see the potential for quite a “bandwagon” effect. Ultimately, will the benefits from increased political participation outweigh the potential harm of fostering (or deepening) a “herd mentality” among voters?

Second (and harder to answer): is Web political involvement (including on Facebook) as meaningful as “real world” political involvement? When people join politicians’ Facebook groups, are they strengthening democratic ideals? Or encouraging a sort of “democracy-lite” society? (In this respect, we run into a familiar question: is the Web a substitute for or add-on to real-world behavior/ media/ relationships?)

NYT columnist Thomas Friedman has one view, expressed in this article that appeared in the Times last fall. Trippi (who thinks the internet has encouraged campaigns to engage people in “real dialogue”) and DW seem to have a different view. In Broadcasting and the Voter’s Paradox, DW (who will kill me for quoting from his writings) says: “Voting is gloriously paradoxical. Each person gets one and only one vote, equal to everyone else’s. When we vote, we are mere faces in the crowd, yet we rejoice in our mere-ness. Yet with that one vote, we express what is unique about us.” And later: “We don’t yet know what the effect will be now that we have remembered that democracy is about connecting as much as about standing alone in a voting booth facing a lonely, existential decision.” So he seems to think Web involvement may end up being MORE meaningful in some ways.

Will voting post-Facebook still involve expressing “what is unique about” ourselves? Or will we veer too sharply toward becoming “mere faces in the crowd” of our Facebook groups? Will we really do more talking and “connecting”? or just more clicking?

Chatter, chatter, chatter


Facebook has introduced live chatting with your friends when you’re online and so are they. (See Facebook’s blog post about it here).

Some preliminary observations – I was glad to see that they allow for the ability to go “offline.” (Can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to avoid my friends!) I tested it out as well (I was intrigued) and out of the 10 or so lines of text I sent, about half didn’t go through (apparently there’s still some bugs to be worked out!). One thing I would comment that I don’t like, is that I can’t pick and choose who I have on my chat list. Why does Facebook automatically assume that since I’m Facebook friends with someone, I also want to talk to them?? Seems odd to me….

The idea of chat is nothing new, but I feel slightly annoyed by Facebook adding this feature. I already have Skype, msn Messenger, AIM, and gchat, not to mention my cell phone, my land line, my four e-mail accounts. I think people can reach me if they want to. (but what if I don’t want them to??)

Also interesting to note, seems Facebook has learned from the past. Right in the blog post announcing the chat feature is a paragraph on privacy. Facebook seems to understand that this issue is important to its users, and bringing in new features without consideration of privacy will create a bad-for-business backlash. (Who can forget the “newsfeed” debacle)

The web has definitely made a difference in how we communicate, and how much we communicate. But like we said in class, what about the quality of how we communicate?

I was talking to some of my friends (the live ones, not the Facebook ones) today about this new feature. A comment from one of them – “Facebook is about to implode because of its overwhelming usefulness”

Making the Web less different?


An article in the NY Times describes how an Internet start-up, Vivaty, is attempting to make the Web social world a little bit more like the “real” social world. It is creating virtual graphic chatrooms like those of SecondLife, but having them accessible from a web browser.

Is this making the Web less different but making more of a Web difference? Better technology allows us to emulate real life much more than ever before, and at the same time it allows us to do things we’ve never been able to do before, such as “chat” with someone who is half a world away.

Will Hulu kill the Net?


This is an, ahem, provocative article that worries that the entertainment industry’s chosen vehicle for delivering content is going to be given preference over all else.

Live music festivals — beneficiaries of the web difference in the music world?


“The record business, or at least that of the major labels, is foundering, as CD sales spiral downward. But South by Southwest thrives on the plain fact that people still love music: making it, hearing it, dancing to it, even marketing it.” -Jon Pareles, NYT

The NY Times featured an article this past week on Austin’s South by Southwest music festival, and it made some interesting observations about today’s music industry that I thought were relevant to our discussion of the web difference in the music world. The author reiterates the point made in class that more and more musicians will turn to concert sales to make their living (as opposed to record sales). He ultimately characterizes the festival as “as close as the concert business gets to a level playing field.” He adds, “Big names and small play the same beery clubs, through the same sound systems, without their accustomed arena video setups or undistracted audiences.”

So in the growing popularity of these live music festivals, we see another example of the Web breaking down barriers to entry in the music business, a development which we in turn expect to improve information flow, increase choice, and drive competition.

I don’t know much about the festival, but Wikipedia says it is the largest revenue-producing event for the city of Austin – bigger than things like UT football games and even the more storied Austin City Limits music festival! (For more, see this article.) So it seems clear that the internet – by bringing about phenomena like the decreasing importance of major record labels, the popularization of off-label music on the Web, and increasing fan demand for live concerts – is also having a significant impact on local, non-Web entities like local governments/ economies. I think all this is interesting because music is one area where the Web has enabled a distinct online culture (MySpace, Bradsucks) to develop, but everything we’re seeing now suggests that the benefits from this online community are being transferred to (or at least shared with) the non-Internet world.

Brad of Bradsucks seemed to be focused more on the opportunities to make (and distribute) a new kind of music that have been made possible by the Web. He said he was less into the live performance opportunities, and is happiest when he’s at his computer, mixing and recording songs. But for many other musicians, the internet is changing the landscape of the live music industry and, in so doing, creating all kinds of opportunities to do what they love most – perform in front of a music-loving audience. All in all, it seems like the web difference in the music world has benefited all musicians. I wonder if this is truly a Pareto improvement vis-à-vis the artists themselves – or if there are some musicians out there who were happier before all these changes?

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 »’)

Amazon/Google Plagiarism Checking


To build on what I said in class, while no one seems to have suggested using the statistically improbable phrases tool on Amazon to check for plagiarism, people are using both Google Books and Amazon’s ‘search within this book’ tool for that purpose.

An article in Slate suggests Google Books could be used to discover long-existing plagiarism.

Similarly, another source suggests that Google Books and Amazon are the “greatest plagiarism detector ever created.”

Knowing and the Web


xkcd lends some insight

Is posting on the Internet when you should be sleeping a Web norm? A comment on the talk page for the Shakespeare’s Sonnets Wikipedia entry (“I posted my comment when I should have been sleeping.”) reminded me of the banner on Rageboy’s EGR blog (“where we write at night when we should be sleeping. and it shows.”).