Web as scandal monger


Here’s an email I received from Kevin Donovan, posted with Kevin’s permission:

 Hey David,

I’m an undergraduate at Georgetown but have been following the class blog closely. I just found this article from a month ago about political scandal/gossip on the web which might be of interest even if the course is winding down: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/13/AR2008031304354.html?nav=rss_technology . The speed of dissemination for news is increasingly too fast for politicians to respond and the archival and searchable nature makes escaping the past more difficult.

Thanks for making the course open so I could follow the fascinating discussions this semester.


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! 🙂

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.


More blocking than we thought?


This report says it’s not just Comcast blocking Bittorrent. Of course, it comes from Vuze, a company that makes a Bittorrent client…

The competition heats up…


As social networks and music marketing become increasing intertwined, an interesting connundrum has arisen with the arrival of social network-sponsored music delivery services. MySpace recently launched a revamped music section, offering additional promotional tools and direct sales for major label artists. However, the popularity of third-party widgets on sites such as MySpace and Facebook (which is rumored to be working on its own joint venture music service) brings these new tools in direct competition with existing applications.

Additionally, as social networks start selling music, and new communities arise specifically directed toward discovering new music, iTunes faces increased competition in the music delivery market. Will social networks supplant iTunes as a ‘one stop shop’ for both networking and discovering new artists? Will iTunes add a networking component in an effort to ‘one-up’ emerging music providers by combining their more developed e-commerce platform with a MySpace-like networking space (though one imagines the profiles on such a network having a cleaner, Facebook-like look)? Is this any different than Wal-Mart and Target containing music sections and increasingly, at least in the case of Target, offering a larger selection of under-the-radar artists? Is it any different than the competition between Amazon.com or Walmart.com downloads and iTunes?

Speaking of openness…


The FCC recently held hearing #2 regarding openness and the ‘net. This time, the discussion took place in the Silicon Valley, and while none of the major service providers were present, the panel heard from a variety of speakers, including representatives from the Christian Coalition and the Songwriters Guild of America. While the Cambridge hearing was sparked by complaints regarding Comcast’s policies, officials noted that the most recent meeting was designed to address net neutrality issues on a broader scale.

Read the full article here.

Second to last class blog


Class begins with a recap of the previous class, which discussed the web’s effects on politics. Students note politician’s ability to use the web to mold their public image through online discussion, YouTube videos, and other forms of web communications. David Weinburger says the most interesting aspect of the conversation to him was the question of how a candidate’s public image can be defined in an era in which so much information is available.

Prof. Palfrey introduces the day’s discussion, which will consider questions of governance on the web. He discusses Yochai Benkler’s book, The Wealth of Networks, which will form much of the basis for the discussion – and notes how the trajectory of the class overall has been analogous to the framework behind Benkler’s book.

According to Palfrey, there is no “singular moment of constitutionality in cyberspace.” The U.S. had a singular moment – the creation of the Constitution – that set the standards that informed the development of the country. Palfrey distinguishes this moment from ICANN and other discussions that may produce standards but ultimately do not have such a galvanizing effect. In fact, Palfrey says, smaller constitutional moments happen all the time in cyberspace. Widely varying groups of smaller players make decisions that set forth the standards upon which cyberspace operates.

Students push back at Benkler’s views. One says Benkler over-emphasizes the need for open standards in copyright. She says that Benkler operates under an Internet-centric view and has a heightened opinion of the extent to which the web changes the need for copyright protections. Other students offer complementary views, steering the conversation toward Benkler’s discussion of the copyright implications of domain names. Various class commenters disagree on the extent to which domain names should be subject to copyright and the extent to which cybersquatting is a problem.

Another student finds Benkler’s treatment of security issues to be lacking. He feels that Benkler didn’t treat security as the moving force that it is but merely decided to tack on a brief discussion of security in the interest of completeness. A brief discussion ensues about trends in security and in other issues on web as a whole. A distinction arises between trends that evince actual “battles” over various standards and “non-battle” trends that do not. Examples of the latter include the rise of the “walled garden” style of community, such as FaceBook.com, and the shifts in regulation of online transactions that seem to correlate with the ebb and flow of web commerce.

The discussion of trends in the online ecology continutes with a discussion of trends that implicate more of a discrete “battle”, such as whether to treat the network sphere as private or public. An analogy is made to public spaces that are open for anyone’s speech contrasted with some of the strictures that have been placed on various web spaces. Palfrey wonders how the “shopping mall” cases – which involve offline spaces that have aspects of both private and public natures – would apply online.

Another such issue is the larger conflict over web sovereignty. The class discusses the conflicts within the view of sovereignty presented in Benkler’s book and Wu and Goldsmith’s “Who Controls the Internet.” The point is raised that predictions of sovereignty based upon views of the current political process do not take into account that the current political climate is controlled by older citizens who have not grown up in cyberspace; with the increasing political power of the cyberspace natives as they grow up and take positions of authority, standards that reflect web differences will increasingly become the norm.

Palfrey discusses the position that traditional rules of international regulatory cooperation apply to the Internet space. The contrary view is that the rules apply less given the ease of international communication – that international communications become more intra-national-like. A debate arises over the extent to which different nations will come together or diverge over issues such as security and cybercrime. Palfrey notes that nations may shy away from cooperation because of the fear of a slippery slope leading to a situation in which nations must cooperate and, in a way, cede their sovereignty over certain issues.

The discussion shifts over to Benkler’s views on the “last mile.” David Weinburger notes that since Benkler’s book was published there is less cause to be optimistic about municipal wi-fi as a last mile player. He notes muni wi-fi’s benefits to equal and open access, which would have the possibility of changing the way government operates for the better by allowing the government to operate under the presumption that citizens have equal access to the Internet.

Palfrey pushes back by positing a scenario in which the municipality is able to filter the content that passes over the muni wi-fi. A further point is raised that not all citizens have computers, thus reducing muni wi-fi’s actual benefits to equal access. David answers by suggesting that a government that knows wi-fi has provided theoretical equal access will tend to institute measures that help that access to become reality.

The final question raised is whether decisions about web governance will be made in the same was as other international standards or whether the Internet is different such that the process can be different. One issue is whether the web will allow nations more opportunity to choose their own frameworks and standards. A student states this process will be similar to the previous process, given that smaller nations still do not have as much of an ability to choose not to follow standards set by others. Palfrey notes that there also is the issue of the effects of standards that are set by some nations on the web as a whole – because of the spillover effects of these standards, there may be an increased impetus to act quickly in order to have such an influence on standards.

National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force


The FBI has established a cyber-security division focused on protecting the United States against cyber-security threats to fundamental networks. The details are incredibly fuzzy – all we know is that it involves inter-agency cooperation and “dozens” of people. The FBI has requested funding to cover 70 additional agents and 100 support personnel for the task force. It’s good to know the government is concerned, but annoying that all we can say is that it is doing something to protect us from something.

Facebook’s free labor


Facebook has been working over the last year or so to translate its pages into different languages. To do this, Facebook has largely been relying on volunteers – unpaid translators willing to help Facebook on their own time. (See an article on this here).

Imagine 50 years ago, a publisher from a large house comes up to you and says, “Will you put in countless hours translating this book for me? We’re going to make money off it, but we’re not going to give you any. Ok?” Would any of us do it? However today, on the web, it seems that Facebook has no lack of volunteers it can rely on to do its work for it. Why are people so willing to devote their time to translate Facebook?

My thought is that people enjoy being able to see their work immediately, and have others see it too. It may be vain, but the web is increasing exposure, so people are eager to show their work. Another reason is perhaps that people enjoy Facebook’s product and want to be a part of it, even if they aren’t getting paid. But that raises the question, why didn’t we see this type of thing before? Was it just a lack of access? Thoughts?

Article expanding on Goldsmith and Wu’s look at China


There’s an interesting (but as far as I can tell, not yet available online or on Westlaw/Lexis) article in Winter 2008 issue of the Journal of International Media & Entertainment Law that uses Goldsmith and Wu’s Who Controls the Internet? as a jumping off point. It discusses China’s effort to get the UN to take over ICANN’s role and an attempt to get “A Proposed Framework of World Norm of Internet” adopted. The authors fear this norm could lead to restrictions on free speech since it only guarantees protections for “true and trusty information.” The article is Richard Winfield & Kristin Mendoza, Does China Hope to Remap the Internet in its Own Image?, 2 J. Int’l Media & Ent. L. 85 (2008).