Currently browsing posts filed under "Ethan Zuckerman ’93"

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Reddit for the Cat Pictures

Fun article about EphBlog favorite Ethan Zuckerman ’93:

How do you insure that your information diet is balanced?

Twitter is my main tool for ensuring news balance. I follow many members of the Global Voices community; either because we’ve become friends, or because I’m fascinated by what’s going on in the country they live in. I look at who they retweet and follow those users as well. I’ll add a few new feeds this way when something interesting is unfolding in a corner of the world, and may remove folks from the list when there’s less news going on. Periodically, I’ll audit who I’m following and adjust for gender and geographic distribution to try to ensure better balance.

Read the whole thing.

There is no better example of the difference between left and right in this country than Zuckerman’s desire to create gender balance in his reading. I don’t particularly care about the genitals of the authors I read. Do you?


Global Voices at Ten

Ethan Zuckerman ’93 reflects on Global Voices:

When Global Voices was formed, Its objectives were: first, to enable and empower a community of “bridgebloggers” who “can make a bridge between two languages, or two cultures.” Second to develop tools and resources to make achieving the first objective more effective. It has maintained a working relationship with mainstream media. Reuters, for example, gave Global Voices an unrestricted grant in January 2006. For its contribution to innovation in journalism, Global Voices was granted the 2006 Knight-Batten Grand Prize.

The organization now states its goals as to:

  • “Call attention to the most interesting conversations and perspectives emerging from citizens’ media around the world by linking to text, photos, podcasts, video and other forms of grassroots citizens’ media.”
  • “Facilitate the emergence of new citizens’ voices through training, online tutorials, and publicizing the ways in which open-source and free tools can be used safely by people around the world”.
  • Advocate for freedom of expression … and protect the rights of citizen journalists

The organizations has a team of regional editors that aggregates and selects conversations from a variety of blogospheres, with a particular focus on non-Western and underrepresented voices.

Read both the Wikipedia entry and Ethan’s reflections. His Bicentennial Medal was well deserved.


Ethan Zuckerman ’93 Book Talk at Google

If someone has seen the whole thing, please tell us about the highlights in our comments.



Who To Root For in the World Cup?

Ethan Zuckerman ’93 and Chad Orzel ’93 provide interesting overviews of algorithms for deciding who to root for at the World Cup. Read them all.

But I thought the most interesting idea came from one of Ethan’s commentators:

the european team with highest number of players from non european origin

Hmmmm. From the context, it is fairly clear (?) that “non european” in this context does not mean, say, a white from Australia. I think that using the race of individual players as a reason for rooting for and against specific teams would be a very problematic attitude within the Williams community. And, as always, the taboos of a community tell you much of importance. (Note that Ethan’s number one criteria — “Sub-Saharan African teams get my support, especially Ghana, recognizing that it’s looking like a tough tournament for the African sides.” — is less problematic because the racial angle is sub-rosa rather than on-the-tabla.)

Imagine that I was rooting for Germany because my cousin played on the team. No one could object to that! Imagine that it was my second-cousin or third-cousin. That would still be OK, although a little strange. But what happens when it is my 8th cousin, i.e. someone with the same great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents, someone whose familial/genetic link to me goes back to the 18th century? That seems even stranger. But let’s continue down the genetic rabbit hole . . .
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No social network has ever made it as a public company

We’re a bit late posting this, but this is a great article in WaPo by Bo Peabody ’94:

The standard social networking business model relies heavily on advertising. As millions of members poured into Tripod, my investors and I thought the advertisers would follow. They never did. Advertisers need to be sure that they are reaching the right audience with their message. They have more assurance of this on search engines such as Google or content sites such as WebMD, where information is controlled and organized, and to whose profits investors have flocked. But on social networks, users can post anything they want. In one meeting with a top advertiser, I was asked to pull up a random Tripod member page. What I got was a picture of someone’s condom collection.

Almost 15 years later and as one of the Web’s largest social networks, Tripod generates the same advertising revenue in a year that Google does in an afternoon. The bottom line is that advertising does not work on social networks because social networks are not media businesses. Rather, they are communications businesses. So, how about charging users for social networks, like telephone companies do? We tried charging users at Tripod, and many others have tried it since. It doesn’t work. There will always be another service that will do it for free, and even if there is a fee charged, the amount of competition forces that fee to be so low that it never amounts to much revenue.

Instead of expecting profits that won’t materialize, the entrepreneurial community should instead operate social networks as not-for-profit organizations. Wikipedia has grown phenomenally with a not-for-profit business model, and while Wikipedia has its problems, its fate is in the collective hands of its users rather than in the hands of media companies or the stock market. Facebook and Twitter should enjoy the same comfort.

Read the whole thing here.

Further commentary from Ethan Zuckerman ’93:

Bo argues that Wikipedia may demonstrate the possibility of running a critical service as a non-profit community effort… I’d broaden that argument somewhat – services like Facebook and Twitter are emerging as critical pieces of social infrastructure. It may be worth thinking of them as public goods. We know a lot of different ways to provision public goods – states maintain them using taxation, private entities build them and charge access fees, communities build them and rely on user support, NGOs provide services and use a hybrid of user fees, donations and foundation support. I don’t think it’s crazy to think that this might be how we choose to build social networks in the future… or perhaps if any of the tools we rely on becomes less reliable.

EphBlog, as always, is ahead of the curve – we’ve never even imagined making any money!


Zuckerman ’93 on Google Books

Ethan Zuckerman ’93 provides an interesting update/overview of Google Books.

So far, Google has scanned more than 10 million books. That quantity of books meant that Google needed to invent a whole new technical apparatus for scanning books… and Google had to physically pick up and scan those books. More than 1.5 million are in the partner program, and a comparable amount are in public domain. There are more than 40 libraries working as partners.

My prediction: In a decade, undergraduates will find it absurd that Williams wastes so much space on campus (and money off-campus) for book storage.


Fun and Games with Human Misery

Ronit asks for “Posts on EphBlog that aren’t about EphBlog every once in a while.” Agreed! And the amazing resources that Ronit (with some help from others) has built (Eph Planet, Eph Twitter and so on) make it easy to come up with non-EphBlog content. Consider Ethan Zuckerman ’93:

Here’s a fun game to play with friends, particularly friends who work on social ventures or other world-changing projects. Ask each person what issues they’d work on if they were given $500 million, $50 million or $5 million dollars to spend. With thoughtful friends, you’ll get different answers for different funding levels. It’s not realistic to tackle huge global problems – curing malaria, building sewage and fresh water systems for villages worldwide – at the $5m level, but you often learn about fascinating problems that might be solvable with a small amount of concerted effort.

Read the whole thing, not the least for the mention of The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth. My answer: Teach sub-Sahara Africa English. Now, to convince the Gates Foundation, you would probably pick one very poor country and then randomize the districts/towns/counties into a control and treatment group. The control group gets nothing. People in the treatment areas get free English-immersion childcare from ages 1 to 6. Add all the feel good early childhood development stuff you want, but the key is that these children become fluent in English because their teachers (songs, videos, et cetera) are all in English.

As the call-center and back-office out-sourcing movement to India has demonstrated, their are huge returns to English fluency, whether you move to a first world country or stay in your own. Anyway, given that almost all other foreign aid programs in Africa have been failing over the last 50 years (see here and here), this plan could do no worse!


Jefferson’s moose, web governance, and some questions for our readers

In a fascinating review of a book by David Post entitled In Search of Jefferson’s Moose: Notes on the State of Cyberspace, Ethan Zuckerman ’93 makes several points that connect, at least for me, with a few recent posts on EphBlog, including the discussion of editing/deleting of comments and the Hedrick Smith documentary on the precarious state of our water. Go read the whole thing.

One of the points that Zuckerman makes is that non-profit sites are able, within limits, to prioritize the needs of the community. EphBlog is fortunate in that it is a small non-profit, and I hope it remains that way. It may not be a pure democracy, but it has a more genuinely representative form of ‘governance’ than any other for-profit or non-profit internet community I’ve participated in. It is extremely rare to have, as we do, a disinterested board and ombudsman who try to act in the interest of the broader community rather than just as a self-interested cabal. Corporate-owned sites obviously have to put the interests of shareholders ahead of everything else. Sites that operate under the aegis of academic and other large non-profit institutions tend to have their own institutional agendas just as much as any corporate site has its marketing and revenue-extraction agenda. Even at highly democratic sites like Wikipedia, I suspect that, if it comes down to it, the interests of the Wikimedia Foundation ultimately trumps the interests of the Wikipedia community.

I am not suggesting that we are perfect. I am suggesting that although the model we have here may not be scalable, it is quite uniquely deliberative and open.

  • Zuckerman brings up the issue of how sites fund themselves – and it’s an interesting one. Most use ad revenue – which adds another constituency, advertisers, whose interest may come ahead of users [David Post would prefer to use the word ‘citizens’]. Wikipedia had a community-drive pledge drive. Currently, this might seem like a moot point because the hosting cost for EphBlog is quite minimal, and is paid directly by the founder(s) of the site. The major investment needed to maintain and improve the site is the freely-volunteered time of moderators and admins. Would it help our efforts to turn EphBlog into a self-governing community if the site was funded by more than just the founder(s)?
  • Would it help to add a minimalist and relatively open user forum or bulletin board? The forum would be like the Speak Up page in a way – a community bulletin board – but with permanent archiving, topics, tags, etc. Active discussions, whether on Eph-related topics or not, would stay on top instead of disappearing into the archives. In my personal opinion, the subjective threshold for posting a discussion topic, or asking a quick question, or sharing a link, might be lower on the forum than it would be for adding a new post to the front page, and so this might increase participation from some readers. I have been experimenting with this idea and would appreciate feedback.
  • Consider this a general thread to reflect on how governance and communities work on the web – and how could EphBlog in particular improve?

So 2006

Ethan Zuckerman ’93:

It’s nice to be listened to. I guess. Maybe. Though I now find myself wondering whether I wouldn’t be better off shutting up.

Me too.

I saw the first reports of Michael Jackson’s death on Twitter around 6pm. I ran a little script I threw together some weeks ago called “twitcent” to see just how many tweets would share the news. Twitcent takes advantage of the fact that Twitter gives a unique, sequential ID to each tweet to estimate the intensity of posting around certain terms. It retrieves a page of 100 search results for a particular search term – say “Michael Jackson” – and looks at the ID numbers of the first and last tweets listed. Take the difference of those numbers, and you get how many tweets were posted between search result #1 and #100. Divide, and you’ve got a percentage of tweets on the system in a discrete, small interval mentioning the term.

Being able to use technology to perform this sort of analysis is not rocket science. Take a couple CS courses at Williams (134 and 136) and you could do it too. Making the computer do what you want it to do is an incredibly valuable skill. If you are a Williams undergraduate, you should get some.

Is it accurate? I dunno. If my assumptions are right, it should be – if Twitter’s not always numbering sequentially, or if some large percent of tweets on the system are unsearchable, less so. Anyway, I ran several search terms through the engine and saw something I’d never seen before – search terms registering in double digit percentages, and the term “Michael Jackson” appearing in 13 – 20% of the tweets.

So I tweeted the following: “My twitter search script sees roughly 15% of all posts on Twitter mentioning Michael Jackson. Never saw Iran or swine flu reach over 5%” And then I went to make dinner.

When I got back online this evening, the tweet had been quoted in Wired News, the New York Times Bits blog, Washington Post’s mocoNews, and in the San Jose Mercury News.

Geez, think these guys read each other much? I’m flattered, I think.

A proper quote from me would probably have been something like: “The search string ‘Michael Jackson’ is getting intense interest on Twitter at the moment, showing up in between 13-20% of tweets. It’s unlikely this level of intensity will continue through the night, but at the moment, it exceeds the intensity I’ve seen on Twitter during slower-breaking stories like #swineflu, #pman and #IranElection.” That, unfortunately, is 337 characters – far too long for anyone to read anymore. And a clarification in the form of a blogpost? That’s so 2006.

Indeed. Are you reading Ethan and the other interesting bloggers at Eph Planet? You should be.


Ethan Zuckerman on Internet Freedom

It’s a long post, but Eph Ethan Zuckerman’s work on censorship and the evolving uses of technologies is worth a read. He was the first “tech guy” for Tripod, the webhosting company that started in Williamstown, and still lives in the Berkshires. A few quotes to whet your appetite:

Web 1.0 was invented to allow physicists to share research papers.

Web 2.0 was created to allow people to share pictures of cute cats.

I had a front-row seat for this transition, working with Tripod. We sincerely believed that the purpose of the web was to give college graduates helpful information about renting apartments, applying for jobs and investing their money. Our users rapidly told us that what the web was really about was publishing their own information… which left us with the difficult challenge of figuring out how to make money off of people’s collections of cat pictures.

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Zuckerman ’93 Interview

A dated but fascinating interview with Eph blogger Ethan Zuckerman ’93.

It’s pretty hard to expect technology to turn non-democracies into democracies. Where I think technology can make a huge difference is where you have a young and fragile democracy. In those cases, I think what helps is finding ways to empower individuals.

Empowering individuals, for example, to avoid systematic corruption –that’s the kind of project which has leverage. Put the customs service online. Customs is a place where there’s an enormous amount of corruption, where goods come in the door and lots of money changes hands under the table. If you can put that system online, it becomes much harder to subvert. When the whole thing is on paper, it’s easy for a corrupt official to charge you money for the stamp or refuse to process your invoice unless they get a bribe. When it’s all online, it’s much easier to say, here’s my money, here’s my form, where’s my shipment?

Interesting stuff. This is strangely enough not unconnected to what I try to do here with respect to Williams. Although Williams is infinitely less corrupt than the sort of places that Zuckerman worries about, there are plenty of issues that should be more widely known/considered/debated. Prior to the web, it was very hard for a non-wealthly alum to have any meaningful knowledge or input into how the College does things. Alas, it is still fair to say that EphBlog’s influence is minimal, but at least it is greater than zero.

In terms of specific examples, I am most proud of our work in Nigaleian. It is not clear to me that the College ever would have fessed up were it not for EphBlog. See also my concerns with conflicts of interests in charitable contributions and with Morty’s salary.

Again, I would never charge Williams with being corrupt. I do believe, however, more scrutiny leads to different and, generally, better behavior.


Drezner ’90 Meet Zuckerman ’93

Dan Drezner ’90 wants to know “to what extent does having a fee-for-content regime inhibit a web site’s popularity/traffic/links?” Beats me. But perhaps there is an answer in some of the interesting work that Ethan Zuckerman ’93 has done on LpkC (links per thousands of circulation). This does not answer Drezner’s question directly, but it certainly provides an overview of some of the tools available for doing so.


Children’s Drawings

Ethan Zuckerman ’93 posts some heart-breaking drawings made by refugee children from Darfur. Tough stuff. Yet I can’t tell from Zuckerman’s post, or his other smart commentary, whether he is actually serious about doing something to stop the tragedy. When bad men with guns are killing people, you can either a) moan and worry and feel guilty (i.e., Rwanda) or b) send good men with guns to stop them. Is Zuckerman willing to tell it to the Marines?

See previous discussion along these lines at WSO.


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