Paradigms for Studying the Internet

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February 1

Note: Due to snow in Cambridge, class is canceled today. To make up for the cancellation, we'll be adding an hour to each of the next two class sessions (February 8 and 15).

Before we can even begin exploring the who's, what's, and why's -- we need to answer the critical question of how. Indeed, the phrase "studying the web" could embrace a staggering world of possible routes to explore, even before beginning to examine its relationship with society and culture. We need something to guide us through this massive field of (very interesting!) foxholes, and link the ideas we encounter into a consistent piece. We need some kind of structure to allow us to understand what we are looking at, the same way a chemist thinks of things in terms of atoms and molecules, or a philosopher can think about things in terms of schools of thought.

This class will propose and develop one framework for the web, which will structure both the discussion and topic matter covered in the course, as well as the methodology that you should apply to your assignments.

Slides: Paradigms for Studying the Internet


Optional Readings

Videos Watched in Class


For people interested in a more technical primer on the architecture of the web, how email works, etc. check out ethan zuckerman and andrew mclaughlin's Introduction to Internet Architecture and Institutions

Some fred turner resources: video presentation, audio presentation, and homepage


Jason Scott on The Great Failure of Wikipedia (2004)

Internet providers are the new secret police, says report

Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia's Contributor List

Open Source #FAIL

"For all its allure, the Internet can be a dangerous place with electronic pipelines that run directly into everything from our personal bank accounts to key infrastructure to government and industrial secrets." - US Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the U.S. Homeland Security Committee Call to give Obama 'kill switch' powers to cut internet access in the event of national cyber crisis 1 Feb 2011

Spotlight Again Falls on Web Tools and Change - article on how repressive regimes can use the internet and new media to their advantage

Class Discussion

Please remember to sign your postings by adding four tildes (~~~~) to the end of your contribution. This will automatically add your username and the date/time of your post, like so: RebekahHeacock 14:15, 27 January 2011 (UTC)

I agree that the Cluetrain manifesto did predicate the shift in new media communication models from a ‘one to many’ model (where an organisation communicates a standard message to a large non-responsive audience) to a ‘one on one’ mode of communication (where companies aim to have a conversation with individuals). I would argue, however that the early developments in the adoption of social media adoption relied on self-empowered individuals who were communicating their views as most employees are not motivated to communicate in the way that the manifesto suggests. Ltconnell 21:03, 24 February 2011 (UTC)

Quill80 rasies a great point for the internet to truly be equalizer we need to provide access to the most marginalize. One great recent example has been Egypt. Turning off the voice of the people by eliminating their ability to express them selves via the web. In my mind it would have been so much more productive if they would have engaged in dialogue. Buie 22:35, 8 February 2011 (UTC)

Reading the Cluetrain Manifesto, I could not help but to remember what Henry Ford said, “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” Clearly, this kind of top-down approach no longer has its place in the modern world. The fact that the Internet has changed the way companies interact with their customers is as widespread as undeniable. However, I want to remark that the lack of universal access to technology has actually marginalized those consumers without the means or skills of getting themselves heard through the cyberspace more ever than before. Businesses are adapting quickly to the new changes in the market. However, I want to question, how well are we, as a society, sharing the benefits of technology to those who do not have access? Quill80 19:12, 8 February 2011 (UTC)

The Cluetrain Manifesto blurs the lines between who is considered the market, employee, corporation and the communication between the three. A key point in my mind is that each one has a human voice despite it's position, so many theses are fundamentally flawed. Trust builds loyalty in markets, online markets are not immune to advertisements. Online advertising is changing in dramatic, more personal ways as uses of the Internet evolve.---dreed07 20:04, 8 February 2011 (UTC)

While reading this Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace i can not shake a thought of Technological Singularity which is supposed to come by the earliest estimates around the year 2020... Science fiction or a true possibility? --Jastify 22:28, 29 January 2011 (UTC)

Although Wikipedia offers knowledge on extensive topics, holding the better model, is there not a huge concern that there is no longer postings of validated facts versus mere opinion?

Here is a link to the BBC World Service documentary Wikipedia at 10 - a 22.5 minute retrospective on the occasion of Wikipedia’s 10th anniversary. It covers a number of topics, some of which may be relevant to the upcoming Wikipedia editing assignment. (Reposted from the January 25th discussion page, as it seems more appropriate here. - BrandonAndrzej)

The rhetorical use of the euphemism of the monolithic corporation in the Cluetrain Manifesto undermines the effectiveness its message. Thesis number two states, “Markets consist of human beings...” Last time I looked, so do corporations.

In fact corporations are highly organized social creatures with diverse internal cultures, rules, mores and recognized standards of behavior. They respond to a broad spectrum of internal and external influence. If only solving today’s problems were so easy as to point our finger and say “off with their heads.” The real challenge, however, is much more complicated and a matter of personal responsibility.

Corporations come in all flavors. Some are highly democratic. As requirements of participating in the public capital markets all have democratic institutions: a constitution (articles of incorporation), boards of directors, shareholders, external advocates and most importantly customers. The Manifesto takes the all too easy out of blaming the generic “them.” The truth is that the reason corporations are as they are today is because the majority of corporate stakeholders abdicate their responsibility to guide the direction of the organization through exercise of their enfranchisement as shareholders and customers.

The behavior of corporations is a function of our collective actions and inactions. We have cheap goods made by slave labor because in the exercise of our conspicuous consumption we don’t want to - or without sacrificing our consumption volume can’t afford to - pay the price of having the same goods manufactured by the un-oppressed. The result is that we send our dollars to evil places rather than fund the social infrastructure that improves the standard of living of more humane societies.

Further we have out-of-control executive salaries, unrestrained executive actions, boards of directors driven by motivations other than the interests of the shareholders and other unsavory corporate behaviors because we fail to fulfill our responsibilities. Too few read the prospectus, attend shareholder meetings, or even vote shares beyond granting proxy to the someone else. I am guilty as charged when like so many, I seek to maximize my ability to profit by pooling my finances in investment cartels while leaving decision making to fund managers, investment advisors and other members of the vested interest.

Many say we need more regulations. I say we have the regulations that we desire. This is true because through our collective actions we drive corporate investment decisions. If we did not want corporations to spend scarce investment dollars to employ the more than 45,000 lobbyists in Washington who water down and fight against regulation, the corporations would find other places to invest. If instead we used our purchasing power and shareholder votes to direct investment elsewhere, there it would flow.

The Icelandic version of Microsoft Windows mentioned in Digital Borders proves the point. On the other hand our abdication of this power as Digital Borders expresses results in the fact that the, “technologies of control in China are essentially the same technologies designed to satisfy consumer demand for geographically tailored Internet products.” Due in part to our marketplace behaviors, oppressors are given the tools they so effectively use as an unintended consequence of our desire for applications to tell us how many of our friends are in close proximity who might be interested in a game of beer pong.

Chasing our dollars and with our benign assent, corporations have followed the instruction we have given them. Let’s stop blaming “them;” for we are them and start taking responsibility for the results of our actions. --Gclinch 00:06, 31 January 2011 (UTC)

Enjoyed watching the BBC anniversay documentary on Wikipedia. As businesses start to utilize this media, I wonder how the controls put in place by Wikipedia for neutral content can possibly be effective. I compared an entry for the holding company for which the company where I am employed is a subsidiary and compared it to one of our competitors. The difference was substantial. The competitor's had a distinct advertising (promotion) flavor along with company's graphics on the right hand border of the page. My company's was a four sentence historical overview providing little relevant information to any potential customer or employee. After checking with our PR Department, I was told no one in the company had written the posting. They assume it was done by a third party contributor. Just by comparing these two companies, the lack of uniformity is readily apparent.--sjennings 20:59, 31 January 2011 (UTC) sjennings

Hello. First remark is concerning Cluetrain Manifesto. These 3 'Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.' I think that big part of our current comminucation has a sound of 'message' or 'MS Outlook Email Sound' if you know what I mean. Sad, but true.

Another remark is about A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.'You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve.[...]...governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different.' I think this is very good statement for discussion. I am not sure to what extend Internet shoudl be independent from real world. Should not be there governing rules? Should it be for intance ISP who decides what they do with my personal data, or information about what kind of webpages I visit, or even where am I located?We do not need any law for that? We do not need Ecommerce directive or DMCA in US? I am not sure whether I get it right but to me it looks like declaration wanted to say somethink like we do not need them (nbot particular those ones but in general). Any suggestions? --VladimirTrojak 15:46, 1 February 2011 (UTC)

Vladimir, I think reading Yu Ri's posted articles at the bottom of the page--particularly, "The Internet's new borders"--will help answer your questions. This article says that while the internet is a "...placeless datasphere, [it's] part of our real world. Like all frontiers, it was wild for a while, but policemen always show up eventually." Hence, the "Declaration" was written as a good-humored stunt, trying to capture the excitement about this new frontier. Inevitably, frontiers are conquered and governed by local and national filtering--and even if frontiers are not fully conquered, like actual outer space, nations try to one up each other to stake their claim of territories at least.Myra 13:58, 1 March 2011 (UTC)

I also inferred the lack of need for DMCA, copyright and general intellectual property regulation. I think we still have a lot of work to do in how the laws are applied, increased improvements in open source and open standards to help users. A system where the creative work itself is protected more so than the medium in which it is used.---dreed07 20:11, 8 February 2011 (UTC)

Principal ideas expressed “The Cluetrain Manifesto“ and „The Great Failure of Wikipedia” I have found in sharp contradiction. The “Cluetrainers” consider the conversation and trading of information and traverse of ideas over the Internet as the essence for present corporations, markets and cultures. On the other hand the author of “Great Failure of Wikipedia” considers gathering and structuring information through communication of masses over the Internet as a work of “wonks”, “twiddlers”, which amount to “ procedural whackjobs”. The clash between these two ideological approaches to the essence of the Internet remind me challenges between the governance of majority expressed in democracy and democratic system and governance of elite represented by oligarchic system. These two philosophical, sociological and political approaches are well reasoned and analyzed in the work of Jose Ortega y Gasset “ The Revolt of the Masses” (é_Ortega_y_Gasset). To make a short summary of this scholar ś ideas, only elite “content generators” formed by some “barriers of entry” could produces welfare “content” in all aspects of human society “the Internet”. I believe that this struggle would never have the winner. Zholakova 21:02, 1 February 2011 (UTC)

Regarding the concept of a “borderless Internet,” the article Digital Borders claims it is reflective of both government and consumer pressure for an Internet that conforms to their individual preferences and laws. I would also argue that such filtered content delivery also arose out of huge corporate demand. Yahoo! has a wealth of user data (geographic, demographic, behavioral, etc) at its disposal, and advertisers are willing to pay a premium to be able to leverage that. So, while a formidable blow to Internet freedom, Mr. Yang and his company have ultimately benefited greatly from the byproduct of their legal defeat, which is a highly profitable business in localized content delivery.

This also raises the controversial topic of how relevant is too relevant. Internet consumers are keenly aware that their personal information is being collected and repurposed, but it does not seem the boundaries are permanently drawn yet. Jsanfilippo 19:50, 2 February 2011 (UTC)

I just had some initial comments before we discuss further in class. Digital technology and the Internet have revolutionized the cross-border communication and information sharing, and this has benefited everyone unimaginably. However, the Internet also has created many great issues and problems that are very serious and threatening (i.e. privacy issues, cyber-terrorism, support for terrorism and other criminal activities, etc.). In order to maximize/protect the benefits and minimize/eliminate damages caused by the Internet, I feel that law, regulation and censorship sometimes are necessary. Anarchy eventually leads to destruction, and I do not think the cyberspace is an exception. Thus, I was a bit uncomfortable with the ideas portrayed in either the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace or the Cluetrain Manifesto. Moreover, as discussed in the Digital Borders, there are vast differences in laws, regulations, cultures and traditions among countries around the world, and they must be respected in the cyberspace as they are aimed to be as such in the “real world.” Through this course, I hope I can gain more ideas about the extent to which the Internet should be regulated and controlled by governments.Edwardshinp 17:39, 4 February 2011 (UTC)

The idea of a free, humanistic and borderless Internet expressed in the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace and Cluetrain Manifesto is simply romantic but naïve idealism. Certainly the Internet is a wonderfully powerful communication medium, but we must recognize that it stands upon the shoulders of television, radio and the various printed media. Egyptians are using twitter to challenge Hosni Mubarak’s authority in the same way Thomas Paine printed Common Sense to challenge the authority of King George III. But the Internet can just as easily be used as a tool of government to monitor and control its people. Benkler (The Wealth of Networks), Goldsmith and Wu (Digital Borders) understand the reality that government regulation of the Internet is a natural and inevitable process, and that it’s a messy business. The ubiquitous nature of the Internet means that it will be subject to both international and every sovereign state’s laws simultaneously. Of this there can be no doubt, as we have already seen Egypt’s “kill switch” in action. -Chris Sura 20:30, 5 February 2011 (UTC)

Chris, You are right that there is a lot of “romantic but naïve idealism” expressed in many of the proclamations about what digital technologies mean to the world. Is it not true that most great movements have often had anthems with flowery rhetoric aimed at inspiring some who may not have acted to action? “We hold these truths to be self evident …,"I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death …," and “Ask not …"?

Shouldn't we ask how we may learn from the evolution of “television, radio and the various printed media” and apply the lessons of those experiences in shaping the future? Benkler pointed out how the early perception of, use and regulation of communications media still shape the way those technologies apply to the world today. In our discussions I hope we will leave ourselves open to the possibilities that the nature of digital technologies may make a difference. I hope we can free our thinking from preconceptions we may unknowingly hold as we ponder these questions and contribute to the frameworks for the future.

Take for example the idea of an Internet kill switch. Aside from arguing the merits of such an idea the question is: is it even a technical possibility? Paul Ford points out that, “The last time someone could shut down the Internet was probably in 1969, when it consisted of two computers." In fact within hours of the Egyptian government throwing the “kill switch,” in Cairo’s Tahir Square “nearby residents reportedly opened their home Wi-Fi networks to allow protesters to get online”. As well, “activists were faxing WikiLeaks cables into Egypt to bypass the Internet blockade,” external players Twitter and Google were teaming up to provide an alternative and many other factors were at play to provide a workaround for the people of Egypt. Is it not possible that the nature of digital technologies may be a force to push the needle that gauges where we stand at any moment on the spectrum between liberty and oppression more toward liberty thus justifying optimisim? --Gclinch 18:15, 6 February 2011 (UTC)

I also agree with Chris that there exists a lot of idealism in the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. Can a civilization exist without laws? There would be an absence of civility itself. We can't lose sight of the fact that there are humans that make up and are the driving force behind Cyberspace. The social human condition would not allow for a world that lacks intellectual property rights in any form. I still believe we have a lot of work to do in regards to intellectual property laws and creating platforms that not only protect the rights of the creator, but respect the digital evolution. ---dreed07 19:56, 8 February 2011 (UTC)

Some thoughts regarding Wikipedia: Wikipedia presents itself as a "democratic entity” - one which gathers its content from users around the globe and allows everyone to freely participate. However, many observers (such as in the BBC Worldservice documentary) have noted that the majority Wikipedia's content is derived from a relatively small number of regular users. The picture painted is one of an oligarchy where a limited number of "elite" users control the content of the encyclopedia via enforcement strict of policy rules, essentially erecting barriers to casual users. I am trying to reconcile this picture with that painted by Jason's Scott's "Great Failure of Wikipedia", in he describes a small number of "content generators" under siege from a great mass of "wonks, twiddlers, and procedural whackjobs" who are essentially negative contributors to the site. "Content generators" become "content defenders", with only those few contributors willing to put extensive effort into protecting their content actually seeing that content become (more or less) permanent additions to the encyclopedia. I am unsure of how accurate this depiction (or either depiction, for that matter) is... The central question here is whether the "elite" users generating the majority of the content are also the users most active in enforcing policy/policing entry barriers, or whether these roles are largely divided between separate user populations. BrandonAndrzej 00:04, 6 February 2011 (UTC)

Some (pessimistic) links regarding social networking technologies and political change: First, a blog post dismissive of the impact of the internet and social networks in the current crisis in Egypt: "Tell Mubarak we don't need his damn internet" Second, a Slate Magazine book review looking at the way politically repressive regimes are using the internet and social networks to their advantage: Evgeny Morozov's The Net Delusion BrandonAndrzej 00:13, 6 February 2011 (UTC)

Without hesitation, I also strongly agree that A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspaceis a naive idealism of the cyber-Utopians including John Perry Barlow. As we can see from numerous recent incidents such as the ongoing revolution in Egypt and North Korea artillery attack to South Korea, the online society is, indeed, under the influence of national governments and their regulations. It is quite sad and disappointing to realize how the Internet can be so vulnerable to central regulations. Even apart from the these cases,A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace still lacks the practicality and is a mirage: to me, this document sounds like an attempt to define one's idea separated from one's physical body. Is that really possible? The Declaration says, "We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies. We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts." There is a famous quote of John F. Kennedy - 'A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.' It seems that the Declaration made an exaggeration on the thrid part of the quote. However, what cyber-Uptopians remember is that Kennedy never regard thoughts as the active subjects of a society.

  • Here are some articles that I would love to share with you!

1)[""] 2)[""] --Yu Ri 22:42, 8 February 2011 (UTC)