Monthly Archives: July 2008

Reading bogs (0.1)

Often, when i read something on my RSS feed, I think that it would be an interesting item to share with others.  Sometimes, when i have an immediate association with a person whom it can interest, I would forward a link.  Many times, however, I choose not to, in order not to spam people’s mailboxes.  So here is what i decided to do…

I want to start posting (from time to time) kind of a digest of various blog-posts I found interesting.  I will provide links and a couple of lines description of what it is about.  If you find it interesting, click; if not, don’t.  Very simple :)  I have no idea how often I will post those, but hope you will find those interesting.  Of course, any feedback will be appreciated.

Comcast forgets the business it is in” – a post by Robert Picard reflecting on the recent battles Comcast has with its own clients on the grounds of limiting file sharing.  His argument that by doing so, Comcast is focusing on optimizing its network usage instead of focusing on its core business, which is supplying content to people.

Could Google’s data collection get more intrusive?” – InformationWeek article republished on “Googalization of everything” ran by Siva Vaidhyanathan.  It tells a story of a research paper suggesting data collection about human behavior using other electronic devices in the household, not just the personal computer.

Make Your Life Flash Before Your Eyes” – Guy Kawasakiintroduces a product that makes it easier to tell your life story in pictures.  It looks nice.

Microsoft’s Free Tools for Scholarly Research” – an update by hratner of “the scholarly kitchen” about MS free research tools.  Although the description of the tools didn’t immediately prompt me to check them out, they may turn out to be useful in the future.

Pressure mounts in the USA for a national broadband infrastructure policy” – an interesting post from Lawrence Baker of BuddeCom about the prospects of broadband infrastructure; is high speed internet worth policy that might cost well over $80-100 billion?

The new powerhouses of Central Asia” – the world is catching up! snippets of what looks like a very interesting BuddeCom report about telecom developments in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

China becomes world’s largest internet market” – according to blorge, China, with 19.1% penetration, is now number one country in the world in the number of citizens who are online; that is compared to US with 71% penetration; I wonder what are the long-term repercussions of these numbers with all the power-to-the-user 2.0-ishness?

Mobile Phones and the Digital Divide” – PC World article by Ken Banks who argues for subsidized advanced handsets in the developing countries as a means of bridging the digital divide; not sure i would subscribe to 100% of his argument, but it is an interesting read.

So, what do you think?  Do you find this kind of digest interesting/useful?

New media

Thanks to Bob, I got exposed to the “GOOD Magazine” (site) – an online outlet dedicated to social issues with an interesting funding model and young approach to content.  Here is an example of what they create (a few months outdated, but still interesting):

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What do you think?

Citizen Media Legal Guide

Citizen Media Law Project (CMLP) at Berkman Center for Internet and Society (Harvard) just launched an interesting, and hopefully helpful, project called Citizen Media Legal Guide. Here is an excerpt from their official press release:

The free guide, which is intended for use by bloggers, website operators, and other citizen media creators, focuses on the legal issues that non-traditional and traditional journalists are likely to encounter as they gather information and publish their work online.

“We’ve created the legal guide to address the myriad legal issues faced by online publishers, whether they are bloggers, citizen journalists, or established journalism organizations.  Because many online publishers don’t have a background in media law, we have tried to make the guide as approachable as possible and included dozens of practical tips for avoiding legal liability,” said David Ardia, director and co-founder of the CMLP, an initiative to provide legal assistance, education, and resources for citizen media and to study the impact of law on online journalism.

The guide is covering six major sections:

  1. Forming a Business and Getting Online
  2. Dealing with Online Legal Risks
  3. Newsgathering and Privacy
  4. Access to Government Information
  5. Intellectual Property
  6. Risks Associated with Publication

The website of the project provides a fully searchable version of the guide, which main limitation is that it covers US only.  It would be great to have also some international perspectives as well.

Hope you will find it useful!

Affordible technology

Recently i blogged about some number of mobile penetration in Africa.  Now i came across this rather old article (HE) about an Israeli company that develops under $25 mobile phones.  The great part of this story is that these seem to be not just simpler (and thus cheaper) phones, but handhelds that have internet and multimedia capabilities.  Neat…

Changing perceptions

ITU Asia 2008Since the first time I participated in the ITU Youth Forum in 2002, I’ve been lucky enough to help organizing a number of other ITU Youth Forums.  When I say “lucky”, part of it is because I get to read essays that the young people from various parts of the world submit as part of the selection process.  The essays usually deal with a question of how ICT can help solving socioeconomic problems.  After reading those essays for a few years, you start noticing patterns and this is where it is getting really interesting.

After having a chance to look at the latest batch of essays from the Asia-Pacific region, I have a couple of observations:

  • There is more similarity in the way young people describe social, political, and economic problems, and more so the information and communication technology.  In previous years, there was less unity in the way people addressed the question of the essay.
  • In the past, when young people wrote about ICT, they always wrote about the internet and sometimes about mobile communication (a more recent trend).  In the current batch a noticeable amount of people placed TV and radio in the same basket as the internet and the mobile.

Of course, these are very preliminary observations and in order to derive more robust or generalizable conclusions, one needs a more systematic analysis.  I haven’t done that (yet), but I do find those early observations interesting.  What do you think?

Viral Net Neutrality

Although creating or reading these very lines is a result of technical and policy decisions made by third parties along the way, sometimes it seems to me that Net Neutrality is not discussed enough. Here is one viral video I got recently via FB. It presents the topic maybe not in the best, but rather creative way:

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I wonder if the other side of the argument has its viral component on the web?

Some ICT4D numbers

Following John Daly’s lead, I read an interesting article in “Issues in Science and Technology” discussing the link between information technology and socioeconomic development. The article by Renee Kuriyan, Isha Ray, and Daniel Kammen from Berkley explores the viability of business-government partnerships for development.  On the one hand, they ask what degree it is possible to do well while doing good.  On the other, they are trying to see what are the needed conditions for this paradigm to work.  It is quite an interesting read and the authors draw a rather complex evaluation of this approach.

You are welcome to read the entire article, but what I wanted to share here are some quotes containing numbers about information technology and associated investment in developing countries.  So, here we go:

With the explosion of markets for low-cost cell phones, personal digital assistants, and personal computers, the information and communications technology (ICT) sector has been particularly influenced by the BOP business logic. More than half of the world’s population lives in rural or peri-urban areas outside the reach of ICT networks. To bridge this digital divide, the World Bank and IFC have invested $5 billion in loans to ICT projects in more than 80 countries. Most USAID programs worldwide have an ICT component, with its latest report indicating that the U.S. government spent a total of $120 million on ICT for development purposes (ICT4D).

Mobile telephony represents the most dramatic ICT4D and BOP success story. According to the joint WRI and IFC report, between the years 2000 and 2005, the number of mobile subscribers in developing countries grew to nearly 1.4 billion, a fivefold increase. Annual increases in cell phone subscribers exceed 100% per year in some nations, notably in sub-Saharan Africa.

India stands out as a leader in developing ICT4D projects, with over 150 private and public initiatives. Mobile subscribers per 1,000 people increased from 4 in the year 2000 to 48 in 2004. Internet users per 1,000 people went from 5 in 2000 to 23 in 2004. The Indian government has made a concerted effort to deliver low-cost connectivity and ICT-enabled services to the “common person” for development purposes. One of the most popular channels for the mass delivery of ICT4D services is through access to shared computers in rural ICT kiosks (also known as telecenters). The kiosks are equipped with one or more Internet-enabled computers and are generally owned and run by independent entrepreneurs. The Indian government is in the process of installing 100,000 ICT kiosks for business and government services throughout the country through a franchise model. Microsoft Corporation India has committed to initiating an additional 50,000 kiosks on the premise that such kiosks can be drivers of growth and facilitate development through business opportunities. The most recent company to seek its fortune in rural India is Google, with a simplified search engine and mobile phone applications, customized to provide weather information, crop patterns, and other relevant data to rural customers.

There are no new and shocking ideas in these data, but it is always good to put numbers along some commonly shared “wisdoms”.  Again, here is a link to the complete article.

MLM on Facebook

Recently, I saw a number of my Facebook contacts (actually quite a large number, something like 18) becoming “friends” with Alberto Floro Da Silva.  This triggered me to share this story and a few thoughts on our online habits.

A while ago I got a Facebook friend request from someone named Alberto Floro Da Silva.  Although I think my Facebook profile is not the most restricted in terms of privacy, I do not usually add total stranger to my friends list.  In most cases I have met most of my contacts or have mutual acquaintances who think we should maintain a linkage.  I would almost never add a complete stranger to my list.

Alberto and I had indeed a number of people as mutual Facebook friends.  However the age difference between him and those acquaintances was quite significant and I could not identify a clear pattern of relationship (geographical, event, etc.).  So, I emailed Alberto asking whether or not we actually know each other and got a reply from his saying that no, but he usually adds all the friends of his friends and would appreciate a link to me as well. For a few moments, I was puzzled, and then decided to accept Alberto’s request.  My decision was based on some observations I had about various patterns of using platforms such as Facebook among people of different ages and different cultural backgrounds.  “What can be wrong,” I thought to myself, “that’s the way he is using Facebook and there will be no harm or cost in adding him.”

Apparently I was wrong.

A few days after adding Alberto, I got the following message from Alberto:

DIMA EPSTEIN, it could please analyze this presentation of technology for http://alfloro.ffivision.com environment . it informs its research please. grateful alberto – Brazil

When you follow the link it shows you a short video about global warming and a call to join a business that “will change your life and help fighting the global warming” (more or less in these words).  No additional information is available on the website, only a form to join.  To me it looked fishy.  I emailed Alberto asking for explanations, but never heard back.  A few days later, I removed him from my friends list.

Now, after seeing over a dozen of my friends befriending Alberto I went on and researched a little bit more about the mysterious link.  Apparently, this is a company in Florida that distributes some sort of engine performance enhancing add-on, which uses multi-level marketing (MLM) as its marketing vehicle.  I didn’t spend too much time on the investigation, but the brief one I did, draws a picture of a pretty sketchy enterprise.  Most of the search results for FFI (the commonly known name for the company) bring up web pages of distributors such as that of Alberto.  Interestingly enough, the only link to the full name of the company on the first page of Google results is a sponsored linked to some kid of MLM clearing house.

If you search for the full name (“Fuel Freedom International”), there is a rather badly written Wikipedia article about it with sort of an editorial war going on between people who are pushing the product and everybody else.  There is of course the company’s website, which has more marketing texts, but little substance.  And if you really have time, there are dozens of online debates (such as this one and this one) and YouTube videos, debating whether or not this is scam.

The more I looked into it, the more fascinated I was by the phenomenon of how multi-level marketing is (ab)using the online tools.  I could, in fact, write an entire post looking into the debates about the authenticity of this product (from my short review, I remain skeptical about it), but I would to limit myself to an observation of to how Alberto is exploiting our reputation and our “befriending” habits to promote his business, whether it is legitimate or not, on networking sites (yes, he has profiles in more than one).

FacebookMy lesson from this story is that even though I treat Facebook more as a self-updating address book, I should be more careful with how I use it.  In the short period of time Alberto was my Facebook “friend” this fact might have encourage other people on my list to befriend him.  But not only that, having my name on his “friends list” probably gave more credibility to his message (i.e. product and marketing strategy he is using) in the eyes of people who trust me (just as having people I know on his list, gave him more credibility in my eyes).

This later point is what I think we, online users, should be really thoughtful about – having a publicly observable link to a person, shares some of our credibility with him/her.  Bringing our offline perceptions and habbits to the online environment, we tend to trust people referred by people we know.  However, the weight of relationship or the referral in online environment appears to be significantly less than that in the offline life.  The combination of the weight we give to referral whether it is online or offline, and the lightness with which we provide those referrals online (voluntarily or not), create quite a dangerous exposure that can, in fact, cost someone money, or other resources.  I find it really interesting, and I am sure, somebody out there is already studying it :)

To wrap it up, please be thoughtful when you befriend people online and if you had asimilar story, please share it in the comments.

Al Gore’s media event

Yesterday was my first time at a typical media event in the US.  Thanks to Joanne, I went to Al Gore’s announcement of a national challenge on climate and energy.  The event was very popular and it was a rather interesting experience.

On the one hand it was well organized in terms of communication leading to the event.  By the time Joanne and I registered, we made it only to the waiting list.  Nevertheless, the organizers kept on communicating with us and encouraged us to come, assuming that they will be able to fit in everyone.  There were indeed a lot of people and getting in was quite a mess.  Of course there were some supporters of Al Gore’s ideas, some protesters, and some advocates for vegetarianvegan food, demonstrating outside.

Outside of Al Gore's speech venue.

Inside, it was rather impressive.  It was my first time in the DAR Constitutional Hall and it was packed (probably over three thousand people).  The crowd was extremely supportive.  Gore was received with standing ovations and many times his talk was interrupted with more ovations.  Well, in fact it wasn’t interrupted, as the speech was very well planned and the ovations came in all the expected places.  It was rather short and didn’t have any famous Al Gore’s use of gadgets (which I hoped for).  I didn’t have a normal camera with me, but took a few pictures with the cell phone.

Al Gore is speaking about the WE campaign.

The speech itself was rather simple and short.  This is not to say it was not good, but I felt slightly used, as it was too obvious that the entire event was held for the small army of journalists who were there typing, taking pictures, and filming.  The audience was there just as a decoration, and it was a really good and interactive decoration.  You usually see it on TV, but when it happens live, the feeling is quite different.

As I said, the message was simple:

  • The problem: United States is in a horrible shape with weak economy, distant wars, and high gasoline prices;
  • The reason: United States’ reliance on fossil fuels;
  • The solution: Shift to using renewable energy sources in 10 years from… NOW!

To help everybody with that Al Gore and Co. have launched the “We” campaign, which has a nice website with additional information about the idea and footage of yesterday’s speech.  According to the website, so far over 1.3 million people already signed up.  From a quick glance at the website, the primary goal of the campaign is advocacy and it is used as a vehicle to collect signatures on various petitions.

Again, it was an interesting experience.  It was not only a typical media event of a kind you usually see on TV (especially now, with all the coverage of US presidential election) – one that is carefully planned and has a weird mixture of sincere ideas and crafted messages.  The way the speech was delivered was also interesting.  Maybe this is the image of Al Gore that i had in my head – one of a global liberal thinker concerned with the future of the entire planet, but I found the speech to be extremely US-centric.  That makes sense in light of my other observations above (after all it is a carefully planned event), but the level of patriotism and nationalism in Al Gore’s speech caught my ear.  It sounded as if US is the world and solving the national problems will definitely make the rest of the planet a better place.  Without judging this way of presentation, it was surprising.

As to the substance, I am no expert on energy, but it looks like the speech was recieved with mixed feelings (not by the audience in the hall, but by experts elsewhere).  Nevertheless, it also seems that the environmental questions are entering every domain of public discourse, including telecom policy.

How do you say “Google” in Chinese?

There is a really vibrant discussion going on nowdays about the potential colaboration between Google and Yahoo.  Some claim that the venture can end up with Google gaining control of 90% of the advertising market in North America.  To a large degree Google’s leading position in online advertizing market is based on its leadership in the world of search, where Google is a definite global leader.

However, it appears that one place where Google isn’t winning the search (and online advertisement) battle(s) is in one the fastest growing economies today – China.  The local rival’s name is Baidu and according to this article it holds 60% of the Chinese search market, compared to Google’s 25%.  The article goes on to discussion of potential reasons for the gap, attributing it primarily to Baidu’s business practices and better cultural fit to the Chinese business culture.

I think it is a really interesting case of how culture interacts with technology and business.  I also wonder to what extent internet policies employed by the Chinese government (primarily filtering of the content) are actually helping the competitive advantage of Baidu?