Is Success Killing the Internet?

A Web of Wide Open Innovation….Or Closed Appliances?

Is the Internet as we knew it – an open platform for innovation – a victim of its own commercial success?

These are the mottoes for a conference at the New American Foundation, tomorrow, 5th of November in Washington (USA). This event will bring together Jonathan Zittrain and Adam Thierer. Zittrain is the author of the “Future of the Internet and how to stop it”. He argues that the openness of the Internet brought connectivity and creativity, but at the same time spam, viruses, cyber-terrorism, etc. For Zittrain the future of the Internet might be closed networks and restricted devices, subverting the spirit of the Web. On the other hand, Adam Thierer, author of “Manifesto for Media Freedom” emphasizes that fears about a loss of openness and innovation are exacerbated. They are a façade used for more “net neutrality” and regulations. For Thierer the Net is undoubtedly alive and digital innovation and online openness are a reality as they were never before.

Yes, this will be an extremely interesting conference and debate of ideas about the future of Internet policy and regulation. But, don’t worry; even if you’re not in Washington, you can “attend” this event, as it will be webcast live here, starting at 3:30 EST.

Keynote Speakers:

Jonathan Zittrain

Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

The Future of the Internet

Adam Thierer

Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Digital Media Freedom,

Progress & Freedom Foundation

Co-Author, A Manifesto for Media Freedom

Michael Calabrese

Director, Wireless Future Program,

New America Foundation


David Gray

Director, Workforce & Family Program

New America Foundation

(My quick comment to the event on “comments” LOL)

Post for Portuguese Speakers

For all of you who speak Portuguese (and we are not so little, as Portuguese is the 6th most spoken language in the world), Julieta Leite, a friend architect working at Université René Descartes, is doing an online survey to collect data for her PhD research about cities. The survey does not ask for any personally identifiable information and will only take you 5 minutes to answer. So please, take some time to participate and to publicize it.
Thank you,

The Atlas of Cyberspace

A quick note to introduce a really interesting book:
The Atlas of Cyberspace (Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin, CASA) explores the spatial and visual nature of cyberspace and its infrastructure and traffic. It examines why and how cyberspace is being mapped, namely what new cartographic/visual techniques are being used to show the digital landscapes beyond our screen. But the authors go further and address the stories and motivations of each map.

It’s interesting to see that traditional/conventional maps, the same used to represent the real world, were first used, but soon we moved to new fascinating, abstract and innovative forms of representing the virtual world. In this sense, the science fiction and artistic ways of representation provide great imagery and ideas. The mapping conversations and communities chapter is simply delicious, it’s the “people-centered” information visualization part and shows from emails to game space mapping.

After collecting thousand of maps, the authors emphasize in their final thoughts that: there is no one true map of cyberspace. Welcome to the brave new world!

And the best is that you can get a free version of the Full book (PDF via CCC license) and enjoy the wonderful maps.

I love free sharable knowledge…Thanks Martin and Rob.

Chat Circles (Mapping chats)
Fernanda Viégas and Judith Donath, assisted by Joey Rozier,
Rodrigo Leroux and Matt Lee (Sociable Media Group, Media Lab, MIT).

If you want to publish and are from Iran, you better think again: Scientific Censorship

This is an angry post:

I was completely astonished and irritated when I read an article by Pedro Sousa about how Iranian people are suffering repression and censorship by international sanctions. These punishments spread to the scientific community with journals refusing the publication of papers, just because the author(s) is/are from Iran. Unbelievable, especially if like me you believe in a research inclusive community based in ethics, in the right of research and dissemination of knowledge.

Here is a clear and authentic example of this madness:

Hello Dr. Eshlaghy:

We appreciate your submission (“Process Based Agile Supply Chain Model According To BPR And IDEF 3.0 Concepts”) to the Journal of Supply Chain Management. Unfortunately, we cannot consider your manuscript for publication due to U.S. sanctions with Iran pursuant to the Department of the Treasury, O.F.A.C. and U.S. Executive Orders #12957, 12959 and 1nte 3059.
Nancy Finger
Editorial Assistant
Institute for Supply Management(tm)

We definitely can’t approve this type of behavior and censorship. So, as I also believe in action, we all should stop subscribing and buying (for us and our universities) this type of so called scientific journals, at least until they change these non-sense guidelines and endorse a real scientific spirit and a double blind review process, from editors to reviewers.

Networked Families: A New Connectedness

A quick note to say that the new Pew Internet & American Life Project report titled “Networked Families” was published today. The study is based on a phone survey applied between Dec. 13, 2007, and Jan. 13, 2008 to an U.S.A. sample of 2, 252 adults, aged 18 and older. Findings show that the internet and mobile phones are central part of the American family daily life. Moreover, the traditional nuclear family is the household type with the highest rate of technology usage and ownership. And this is a really surprising outcome: Internet use and ownership is higher in married couples with minor children than in singles, single-person households and married couples without children. Not so yuppie activity after all!!!

But, how is this affecting the family unit? Even if some authors, especially from a dystopian perspective, demonstrated concerns about the ability of technology to drive families apart and to isolate them, the Pew survey supports opposite ideas. Families use a diversity of communication media to stay connected during the day: Internet, mobile phones, and landline phones. Family members call, talk on IM/IRC, social network sites and email each other during the day. Mobile phones are used particularly by family members to stay regularly in touch and to coordinate the family agenda. But wait, there’s more: most families are together at night and many members of married with children households view/share moments and experiences on the Internet – the “look at this” phenomenon.

In one hand, those with the most technology are more likely to share moments with family members while they are online and to exchange some kinds of family communications. In other hand, they are more likely to live in dual-income households and also more likely to report that they are working longer hours, in part because of the Internet. Those with multiple communication devices are somewhat less likely to eat dinner with other household members and somewhat less likely to report high levels of satisfaction with their family and leisure time than are families with lower levels of technology ownership.

However, for about half of the respondents, the new media have an important role in increasing family communication, while about half haven’t perceived much difference. Only a small percentage thinks that the internet and mobile phones have truly decreased family contact. Few household members feel that the internet separates them. Many state that the internet, like the television, brings people together within households.

“Their (families) heavy home internet use suggests that many households are hubs of personal communication networks, as people log on individually to email, IM, post on social networking sites and chat. They are both together with their families and connecting outward to friends and relatives elsewhere. They are neither isolated individuals nor Dick and Jane’s traditional family.” Therefore, American households are active spaces of interaction between individual activity and family togetherness. I definitely would like to see data from different countries.

Some key findings:

  • 84% of family households surveyed own several mobile phones or mobile devices.
  • 77% of the families have a computer in the household.
  • 66 % of the families have high-speed broadband Web access.
  • 42% percent of parents use mobile phones to stay in touch with kids.
  • 70% of couples who both own a mobile phone contact each other once a day or more to say hello or chat; 54% of couples who have one or no mobile phones do this at least once a day.
  • 52 % of families gather around the computer several times a week.

3D Guernica – Digital Art?

Guernica is one of Pablo Picasso’s masterpieces. It portraits the Nazi German bombing of the city of Guernica in Spain (April, 26, 1937), during the Spanish Civil War. This mural-size canvas painted in oil conveys a political message, a voice against war: art creation against destruction and death. For this reason and for the strong dramatic and powerful forms of this painting, it became an influential anti-war and anti-fascism symbol. It illustrates the tragedy and suffering of war, of any war…The violent forms, the brutal fragmentation and anatomic transmutation of the strange figures, the chaotic mixture of people, animals and objects express an unbearable reality of pain and despair: the woman with a flame-lit lamp in her hand (making us recall the Statue of Liberty), the soldier with the broken sword from which a flower grows, the men in terror with his arms raised to the sky, a bull, an agonized horse, fire, a dead child, the black and white option, the lack of colour and of life….
But, if you think you’ve already seen the painting, check the amazing 3D work of digital artist Lena Gieseke. It gives us an opportunity to explore the artwork from an exceptional perspective. It reveals details and hidden minutiae. For me, her work is also a form of art. Although many will disagree with my statement, it implies a choice of montage with a specific purpose, a selection of images, moments, sounds and tech. tools: in other words, a kind of personal visualization and re-representation of the painting, a form of digital art….

Revisiting “Ten things wrong with the media effects model” by David Gauntlett

There are no coincidences. Last week I was chairing a session on the “Family Diversity and Gender” conference and a propos of a paper about domestic violence, the discussion progressed to all forms of violence and media’s role: Has the media an important role on exposing violence cases? But, aren’t we perpetuating and exploring violence? Is media turning violence into an ordinary daily issue, that can’t make us feel shocked about it anymore? Globally speaking, what are the media effects?
I was moderating the debate and recalling Gauntlett’s paper on this particular subject. What was interesting, was that in last week’s Obercom’s newsletter, Gustavo Cardoso talks about Gauntlett’s article. He evokes the paper to contextualize the Portuguese summer news, mainly about a growing violence: bank assaults by Brazilians; racial uprisings – gypsies against Africans, physical confronts in the poor neighborhoods. It was a hot summer indeed…although this year, fires where replaced by other forms of human violence. So, as there are no coincidences, I had to revisit the paper.
David Gauntlett’s paper was first published in 1998. This version was re-published with some improvements in “Moving Experiences, Second Edition: Media Effects and Beyond” (2005). This shows that the core ideas are still extremely valid, what reflects little changes in the field.
Media effects are related to the ways media affect their audience. In other words, different models describe how media affect the way people think and behave. It’s generally assumed that the media have an important role in forming the public opinion, although their effects are not consensually proved. Studies on media effects started in the late 30s, and initially mass media were seen as an evil way of blocking individuals’ autonomy. For example, Talcott Parsons explained how they were instruments of social control. The audience was passive to the will of the media. We moved from theories of unlimited effects – like the magic bullet – to the limited effect – like the two step flow of communication. Other models followed: the cognitive effects, agenda-setting, information processing, coding/encoding, etc. The shift changed globally from a passive audience to an active one, moving from simplistic paradigms to more complex ones.
A great number of theorists have been working on media effects: Lazarsfeld (1948) and his opinion leaders and selective exposition; White (1961) and the Gatekeeping perspective; Marshall McLuhan and The Medium is the Message expression (1964) that describes how the medium influences how the message is perceived; McCombs and Shaw (1972) defined the so-called agenda setting of the media; Blumler and Katz (1974) worked on what audiences do with media messages, developing the Uses and Gratifications Theory, also explored by Denis McQuail (1987); Jean Baudrillard and his studies on the consumer society (1970) and the hyperreality concept (1981) where essential for the field, like Noelle-Neumann (1984) spiral of silence; Graber (1988) and the process information theories, among others.
However, “It has become something of a cliché to observe that despite many decades of research and hundreds of studies, the connections between people’s consumption of the mass media and their subsequent behaviour have remained persistently elusive. Indeed, researchers have enjoyed an unusual degree of patience from both their scholarly and more public audiences. But a time must come when we must take a step back from this murky lack of consensus and ask – why? Why are there no clear answers on media effects?” (Gauntlett, 1998).
For Gauntlett, media effects research has been based in the wrong approach to audiences and society:
1. The effects model tackles social problems ‘backwards’
Taking the example of violence in society, researchers should start with that social problem and try to explain it with reference to those who are engaged in it: their background, lifestyles, character profiles, etc. The ‘media effects’ approach comes at the problem backwards, as it starts with the media and then try to develop connections from there on to social beings. It’s the error of looking at individuals, rather than society, in relation to the mass media.
2. The effects model treats children as inadequate
As if children (“negatively seen as non-adults) couldn’t understand or be critical, as children couldn’t cope with the media.
3. Assumptions within the effects model are characterized by barely-concealed conservative ideology
“Whilst it is certainly possible that gratuitous depictions of violence might reach a level in US screen media which could be seen as unpleasant and unnecessary, it cannot always be assumed that violence is shown for ‘bad’ reasons or in an uncritical light. Even the most ‘gratuitous’ acts of violence, such as those committed by Beavis and Butt-Head in their eponymous MTV series, can be interpreted as rationally resistant reactions to an oppressive world which has little to offer them (see Gauntlett, 1997). The way in which media effects researchers talk about the amount of violence in the media encourages the view that it is not important to consider the meaning of the scenes involving violence which appear on screen.”
4. The effects model inadequately defines its own objects of study
Effects studies accept with no discussion media concepts, like “antisocial” and “prosocial” programming, as well, as behaviours definition/characterization in the real world (here we go back to ideological value judgments). It addresses categories as always clear and unambiguous.
5. The effects model is often based on artificial elements and assumptions within studies
The validity of studies in the laboratory or in the classroom is questioned, as neither are typical environments. The researches based in other methods are often simplistic, selective and based on beliefs that subjects will not change their behavior.
6. The effects model is often based on studies with misapplied methodology
The author shows how a majority of studies apply a wrong methodological procedure and draw contestable conclusions. It assumes that researchers have the unique ability to observe and categorize social behavior and its meanings, not considering the diverse possible meanings which media content may have for the audience.
7. The effects model is selective in its criticisms of media depictions of violence
There’s a kind of philosophical inconsistency in the model, as the media representation of ‘violence’ which the effects model classically condemns is limited to fictional productions. However, the acts of violence which appear daily on news and reliable factual programs are seen as exemptions. “If the antisocial acts shown in drama series and films are expected to have an effect on the behaviour of viewers, even though such acts are almost always ultimately punished or have other negative consequences for the perpetrator, there is no obvious reason why the antisocial activities which are always in the news, and which frequently do not have such apparent consequences for their agents, should not have similar effects.”
8. The effects model assumes superiority to the masses
If in one hand, “Surveys typically show that whilst a certain proportion of the public feel that the media may cause other people to engage in antisocial behaviour, almost no-one ever says that they have been affected in that way themselves.” On the other hand, some studies perceive viewers as fools.
9. The effects model makes no attempt to understand meanings of the media
The effects model performs a double deception of presuming (a) that the media presents a singular and clear ‘message’, and (b) that the promoters of the effects model are able to identify what that message is. Theories forget that interpretations and perceptions are heterogeneous.
10. The effects model is not grounded in theory
The essential problem is that the entire argument of the ‘effects model’ is not corroborated by any theoretical reasoning beyond the assumptions that particular kinds of effects will be produced by the media. The basic question of why the media should make people imitate its content has never been sufficiently developed, as well, as the question on how seeing an action in the media would make an individual behave in a specific way.
Therefore, all the ten reasons (check Gauntlett’s paper for examples and a more profound explanation of each reason) emphasize that the media effects model fails, because it is based on simplistic and reductive suppositions and ungrounded stereotypes regarding media content. So, the question is still open, what future for research on media effects?

The Net Neutrality Action: Stop the Throttler!

In Canada, Bell and Rogers are changing how the Internet works, limiting Web users access content. This policy is known as ‘throttling’, and it fundamentally changes how the Internet works. Instead of users deciding how they use the Internet, ISPs are now trying to “shape” traffic. The companies argue they are trying to limit activities that use up a lot of bandwidth in order to maintain speed for all users. But there is a dangerous reality hidden beneath the companies’ apparent concern for subscribers. Using the same “traffic shaping” principle, the companies can steer subscribers to their own content, or content produced by affiliated companies, and away from that offered by competitors – including the public broadcaster. Scary, but possible!

“For more than a decade, the Internet was a neutral resource for people around the world to share information with each other. Do we really want Bell and Rogers to be able to tell us what we can and cannot view and do on the Internet?” These are the appeals of this movement for democratic media that organized in May a rally to save the open internet in Canada.

This episode brought to discussion the important subject of net neutrality and seemed to be the beginning of a world wide debate. In fact, in Brazil the bill of the deputy Eduardo Azeredo against cybercrime was approved on the 9th of July (the second version already) in the Federal Senate and now moves to the Deputy Chamber. The problem with this project is that in the name of crime prevention (namely pedophilia and electronic fraud) fundamental rights as privacy; digital inclusion; communication and Internet innovation and development are restrained. To fight this new censorship, the civic movement Intervozes manages an online petition and other forms of collective action.

Mobile Phones and Human Habits

According to a study from Northeastern University (Boston) published this week on Nature, human beings are creatures of habits, as they visit the same spots over and over again. Most people also move less than 10km on a regular basis. The researchers mapped human activity, tracking 100,000 individuals selected randomly from a sample of more than six million phone users in a European country. Each time a participant made or received a call or text message, the location of the mobile base station relaying the data was recorded. Information was collected for six months. However, researchers state that a person’s pattern of movement could be seen in just three.

Results show that most people’s movements follow a precise mathematical relationship: the power law. Findings also show that patterns of people’s movements, over short and long distances, were very similar: people tend to return to the same few places over and over again. Although all the mobile phone data was collected anonymously (researchers didn’t even know the telephone numbers, as they received from a telephone company 26 digits and letters), tracked people were not informed about this research, what brings inevitably some ethical questions into the discussion.

Organized Joy and Chaos in Public Spaces

Improv Everywhere causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places. Created in August of 2001 by Charlie Todd, Improv Everywhere has executed over 70 missions involving thousands of undercover agents. They are interested in an “organized fun” and in seeing the public reaction to their appearances (that’s why is improvising, although all their missions are pre-arranged they never know how the public will react and consequently how tasks will be performed).

One of their missions, the so called “freeze” craze started by the Frozen Grand Central and has now reached 70 cities in 34 countries and 6 continents. For me is like a flash mob, but not for them. They explain in their FAQ that Improv Everywhere was created about 2 years before the “flash mob” trend: “While some of our missions may have certain similarities to a flash mob (large numbers of people appearing in a public place and then disappearing suddenly), we really don’t have anything to do with flash mobbing. Some missions use just a few folks while others might use hundreds, depending on the idea and depending on how many people show up to participate.”

An example of a “freeze” mission:

Check the mission’s world map (

Interesting, mainly in a sociological perspective 🙂