Monthly Archives: December 2009

Our modern Babel?

I wonder what do people think about the potential repercussions of the introduction of IDNs, particularly in terms of fragmentation of the Internet.  In this post I provide some background about the languages on the web, some of my thoughts, and finally questions for which I would love to hear your thoughts.

After many years of debates, International Domain Names (IDNs) have finally become more tangible with the announcement of the Fast Track by ICANN earlier this year.  Right now it is open only to states and territories recognized in the ISO 3166-1 regulation.  A number of countries have already applied for registering their Internet country suffixes in their local languages (IDN ccTLDs).  For example, Egypt announced that they are going to register “.مصر”, which stands for Egypt in Arabic, and Russia started the registration process for “.рф,” which stands for Russian Federation.

Overall, introduction of the IDNs has been met with a lot of enthusiasm.  In the last ICANN meeting in Seol and at the last IGF this was celebrated as the final internationalization of the Internet.  The minister of communication of Egypt was quoted saying that the “Internet now speaks Arabic” and the European Union has also declared that they are going to allow registration of .eu in all 23 official languages of the Union.  People are celebrating the diversity.

At the same time, as expected, not everybody is excited about this development.  It is widely held that the primary opposition to IDNs has been voiced by the trademarks holders.  After sort of figuring out how to protect their trademarks in the current, Roman script dominated, cyberspace (such as the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy), they are not particularly psyched about the need to do it again in dozens of other languages and potentially under dozens of other regulatory regimes.

However, not only the trademarks holders are not excited about the new IDNs.  There are also those, who voice concerns about fragmentation of the Internet as a result of adoption of domain names that would be accessible only to speakers of a particular language.  Dwayne Bailey, Research Director of the African Network for Localisation, spoke at the IGF about the danger of monolingual silos or as he put it: “A multilingual world of mono-lingualism.”  Karine Barzliai Nahon wrote a post on this topic, addressing particularly the situation in Israel, but alluding to similar concerns.  I personally had thoughts along the same lines when I first heard about the idea of IDNs and we can find similar arguments even at the very beginning of the debate about IDNs (for example here).

From where I stand as a user of the Internet (and I think most of the people who read those lines share this position), the Internet emerges as this enormous modern (knowledge and information) Tower of Babel.  There is so much information out there and it all is accessible to me at my laptop – all I need to do is to type a query in the search engine or enter a URL.  This is possible primarily because I feel at ease with both the technology and the English language.

Even though English is not the only language online, we can still access most of the content in English.  As some of the stats suggest, in 2008 only 31% of the online content was in English and that percentage was shrinking.  Chinese accounted for 20% and Spanish for 7%.  Between 2000 and 2008, the amount of content in Arabic grew 2064%, in Chinese 755%, and in Portuguese 668%.  However, even if the content itself is in a language that I do not understand, there are automatic translators that are good enough to allow me understanding, and maybe even engaging with, materials in languages other than those that I know.  All I need is to enter a URL of a website into an automatic translator, and here it is at my fingertips.  Isn’t it wonderful?

The “danger” of IDNs thus is fragmentation of content and as a result fragmentation of the Internet itself.  If I am unable to type in a URL of a website I won’t be able to access it, even before I reach the point where I need a translation.  The result could be that different cultural groups will isolate themselves by using the language barrier and we might lose the wealth of information that is out there.  This would be an equivalent of what happened to the Biblical Tower of Babel when all the different languages were introduced – the tower fell.  Our modern (knowledge and information) Tower of Babel might fall as well.

These were some of my initial thoughts and these are the concerns voiced by others as well.  However, the more I think about it the less categorical picture emerges.  Here are some of my more recent thoughts:

  • To start with, it is not clear how much attention people pay to the URLs and there is quite a lot of research out there showing that people don’t use URLs for web navigation that much.  I think this is a major point in our thinking about the “threat” and “benefits” of IDNs.  I am not at all convinced that URLs matter.
  • Second, I am not sure how much people in fact consume content that is not in languages that they know.  I mean, it may well be that the content online is already segregated and having internationalized URLs will not change much.  I have yet met a native English speaker who was a regular reader of websites in Russian or Chinese (I see a lot of the opposite, but not that).
  • Third, I think it is reasonable to assume that just as we have automatic translators that allow browsing entire websites in languages other than those that we know, there will be a technological solution that will make the URLs just as transparent.
  • Same goes for keyboards.  If we will insist on typing the URLs, virtual or projection keyboards can allow having an unlimited number of scripts on a single keyboard.  In fact, in this kind of technical solutions, I do believe in letting the markets speak and if there is enough demand for IDNs and enough demand for bypassing the IDNs, the technical solutions will appear.
  • Also, as the rhetoric of IDNs suggests, they are aimed not at people who are already online and are comfortable with English, but at those who for various reasons, are not online yet and for whom English is a barrier.  It is easy for us to talk about potential loss of our access to the (dare I say underutilized) wealth of information from a position of relative power.  It is quite different for those who do not have any access at all.
  • Finally, it may be natural that we do not understand all the content that is out there.  After all this is how our society became as diverse as it is.  Moreover the effort we need to put into learning and understanding another culture makes the experience even more rewarding.  So, maybe the IDNs are just a natural development?

My bottom line is that while I do share some concerns regarding the IDNs’ potential contribution to the fragmentation of the Internet, I am not at all convinced that this is what will necessarily happen.  Of course, one can think of scenarios where some governments force registration of local domains in a particular language, but even in that case, I am not sure it will work.  Similarly, I am not 100% sure that English is the main barrier to access and effective use of the Web.  I think there are other barriers such as lack of physical infrastructure or lack of technical literacy.  But perhaps more than ever before I think this is a case where we should let the users of the Internet make up their minds whether they want to use internationalized domain names or not.  The history suggests that the currently connected won’t do it, but perhaps the 6 billions of those who are not connected will.

These are some of my thoughts on the subject.  What do you think?  Will IDNs cause further fragmentation of the Internet?  Or will they increase the diversity of the content online and make the Web more accessible?

The Weidenfeld Scholarships and Leadership Programme

No, I am not turning this blog into a fellowship/scholarship/conference announcement board.  But many of my friends, especially in the developing countries, are approaching me with questions about opportunities of studying abroad and particularly about funding.  So, I feel I should share those pieces of information as they come along.

Here is a very interesting opportunity for those of you who have a leadership bend to their academic aspirations and fancy studying in UK:

Launched in March 2007, the Weidenfeld Scholarships and Leadership Programme seeks to cultivate the leaders of tomorrow primarily from Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Caucasus, Central Asia, Russia, the Middle East and North Africa. The scheme provides outstanding university graduates and young professionals from the wider European neighbourhood with the opportunity to pursue graduate studies at Oxford University. The Weidenfeld Scholarships cover all tuition, college and maintenance fees as well as the costs of extra-curricular activities for the length of the students’ chosen course.

The programme includes intensive leadership, mentoring and networking activities, which develop the scholars’ capacity to contribute to public life in their countries of origin, be it in the public or private sectors, and build lasting professional linkages across continents, ethnic, cultural and religious lines. Co-chaired by Sir Ronald Grierson and Mr. Michael Lewis, the Weidenfeld Scholarships Advisory Board includes leading figures from international academia, business and politics.

It would be great to hear from anyone who decides to apply.

Good luck!

ITU-T Kaleidoscope – Call for Papers

The ITU-T is organizing an academic conference, which aims to expand the conversation about standards and also peek into the future of the technical regulation of the telecom.  I have never been to one of those, but it seems potentially interesting and I will also be reviewing papers for it this year.

I am not sure why this call for papers is not available online yet, but I am sure it is going to hit numerous mailing lists pretty soon.  Here it is for your convenience:

Beyond the Internet?

− Innovations for future networks and services −

an ITU Kaleidoscope event technically co-sponsored by IEEE Communications Society

India, 13 – 15 December 2010

Call for Papers

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Kaleidoscope 2010 Beyond the Internet? − Innovations for future networks and services − is the third in a series of peer-reviewed academic conferences that bring together a wide range of views from universities, industry and research. The aim of Kaleidoscope conferences is to identify information and communication technologies (ICTs) for which the development of standards can turn innovations into successful products and services.

The rise of mobile access and its integration with optical transport networks pose key questions: how should the current architecture evolve to accommodate fixed-mobile integration and the demand of services and applications, 10-15 years from now? How could the cloud and grid computing models be integrated? And, what will the social and economic impact of these innovations be in the future information society?

Some experts question whether the current underlying architecture is sufficiently robust to evolve and adapt to future demands and especially to address security concerns, or if a “clean slate” approach is needed to develop a really innovative Internet of the future. Contributors seeking to bring innovations for future networks and services might have to challenge the fundamental networking design principles of the Internet.

Beyond the Internet? − Innovations for future networks and services − is calling for original academic papers offering innovative and daring approaches towards the Internet of the future. Kaleidoscope 2010 aims to be a unique opportunity to share views on the future ubiquitous communications and to collect broad, kaleidoscopic views building upon lessons learnt from existing networks and services.

Objectives

Beyond the Internet? − Innovations for future networks and services − will highlight multidisciplinary aspects of future ICTs, based on contributions from the world’s universities, industry and academic institutions. The focus will be on innovative technologies and their impact on the evolution of Internet architectures, services and applications, as well as societal and economic challenges.

New this year

In addition to a local universities exhibition, outstanding keynote speakers and invited papers, ITU will host in 2010 Standards Corner, a series of standardization tutorials and Jules Verne’s corner, a special space for science fiction writers and dreamers.

Audience

Beyond the Internet? − Innovations for future networks and services − is targeted at all specialists with a role in the field including researchers, academics, students, engineers, regulators, top decision-makers and thinkers from all over the world who look into the future.

Date and venue

13-15 December 2010, India

Submission of papers

Prospective authors, from countries that are members of ITU, are invited to submit complete, original papers with a maximum length of 4500 words within eight pages including summary and references, using the template available on the event website. All papers will be reviewed through a double-blind, peer-review process and handled electronically; see www.itu-kaleidoscope.org/2010 for the online submission (EDAS). The main themes are suggested in the list of topics. The deadlines for paper submission are highlighted below.

Deadlines

Submission of full paper proposals: 30 April 2010

Notification of paper acceptance: 30 July 2010

Submission of camera-ready accepted papers: 10 September 2010

Publication and presentation

Accepted papers will be presented during the event, published in the proceedings and made available through the IEEE Xplore. The best papers will be invited for evaluation for potential publication in the IEEE Communications Magazine.

Awards

Awards of USD 5k, 3k and 2k will be granted to selected best papers, as judged by the organizing and programme committees. In addition, young authors presenting accepted papers who have not yet received a PhD title will also receive a Young Author Recognition certificate.

Keywords

Future Internet, technological innovation, network architecture, services, applications, ICT standards, information society, policy and economic issues.

For additional information

Additional info can be found at the event website: www.itu-kaleidoscope.org/2010

Inquiries should be addressed to: kaleidoscope@itu.int

Suggested (non-exclusive) list of topics

Track 1: Technology and architecture evolution

  • Evolution of Internet architecture, NGN and the future Internet
  • Mobility and nomadicity in evolved architectures
  • High-data-rate mobile infrastructures, seamless handover, multihoming and mobility
  • Convergence of optical/photonics and radio techniques for transport and access networks
  • Ultra-high speed transport networks
  • Cloud computing and grid computing
  • Enterprise integration of legacy networks and the future internet
  • Advanced network security, network identification, biometrics, localization techniques and ubiquitous sensor networks (USN)
  • Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) infrastructure
  • RFID, sensors and ad-hoc networks
  • Evolution of display technology
  • Broadcasting, multicasting, unicasting and peer-to-peer in the future Internet
  • Green and energy efficient architectures
  • Digital rights and identity management
  • Evolution of network management including fault management and localization
  • New hardware solutions, integrated circuits, antenna designs etc.
  • Service oriented modeling and analysis in future architectures

Track 2: Applications and services

  • Enhancing accessibility for all
  • Open service interfaces, service interaction and interoperability in future scenarios
  • New entertainment initiatives (games, IPTV, Interactive TV, Mobile TV, and others)
  • Applications to reduce power consumptions
  • The fully networked car
  • Quality assurance / QoS for real time multimedia services
  • Innovative multimedia applications and content delivery
  • Advanced smart terminals
  • Enhancing electronic storage and data mining
  • Simulation and development tools
  • Future virtual communities / social networking services
  • Creative combinations of web and network services
  • Middleware service discovery
  • Evolution of e-public services (e.g. e-government, e-health and e-learning)
  • Advanced services using sensors and RFID applications
  • Solutions for ICT recycling and waste reduction
  • Field experience in creating innovative solutions using limited technology

Track 3: Social, economic and policy issues

  • Evolution of legislative and regulatory frameworks towards inclusive converged networks
  • Balancing Internet security and ubiquity
  • Securing users from Internet content (e.g. child protection)
  • Evolution of NGN and future Internet standardization
  • Business models for the information society (including accounting, billing and charging)
  • Economics of ICT standardization
  • Standardization models for the Internet of the future
  • Societal impact of virtual / collaborative environments
  • Management of virtual and collaborative teams
  • ICTs as an enabling technology to mitigate climate change and GHG emissions

Hope many of you will find this interesting and will submit papers.

Good luck!

“Digital” vs. “real”

Evgeny Morozov started an interesting conversation on the webpages of the Prospect Magazine about the role of “new” media in civic activism under repressive regimes.  He is rather skeptical about the equation “internet=democracy” and provides a plethora of examples where relying on “new” media can stagnate and/or backfire at attempts of civil activism or apprising.

I find particularly compelling his longitudinal view of things as opposed to focusing on a momentary instance (i.e. Twitter/Facebook/OtherTrendyWebsite Revolution).  For example, he refers to the protests in Belarus, which followed their presidential election in 2006 – there were flash mob protests organized using LiveJournal, which attracted a lot of attention from the Western media.  However, looking back, the results of those protests and the online activism are minimal to non-existent.

However, Evgeny does not stop there and suggests that the oppressive regimes are also learning to use the web.  Not only they use the web to to get to the activists (for example see how the Iranian government is using the web to identify the particularly active individuals in the post-election protests in the country), but they are also learning to use the “new” media to fight back and even to predict future unrest.

Evgeny explicitly mentions Clay Shirky as “the man most responsible for the intellectual confusion over the political role of the internet.”  Shiry responds, acknowledging some of Morozov’s criticism, but stating that regardless of that the “new” media should not be disregarded.  Unfortunately, in his argument, Shirky he seems to repeat some of the old claims focused on what might happen based on very limited evidence.  For example he writes: “It is impossible to know how the next few months in Iran will unfold, but the use of social media has already passed several tests: it has enabled citizens to coordinate with one another better than previously, to broadcast events like Basij violence or the killing of Neda Aga Soltan to the rest of the world, and, by forcing the regime to shut down communications apparatus, the protesters have infected Iran with a kind of technological auto-immune disease.”  However I don’t think he provides much evidential support for those predication, at least at this point.  Having said that, I admit that I don’t know much about the idea of “information cascades” and cannot address their debate on that ground (others seem to know much more about that).

I think one of the points Evgeny is making in this article (as well in some of his other commentary), even if he is not stating this explicitly, is about the dichotomy between the online and physical spaces.  The narrative of digital activism as a catalyst of  “real” political change is heavily based in the assumption that the “digital” realm is substantively different from the “real” and it is possible to change the later through affecting the former.  First, the old-fashioned political apparatus is not as savvy in comprehending this “digital” realm, which supposedly allows the activists new forms of engagement, communication, and mobilization.  Second, whatever emerges in the “digital” world has “real” impact on the “real” world (but rarely the other way around).  The result of this last assumption is a hype about Facebook uprisings and Twitter revolutions.

Evgeny’s skepticism, and to a degree Caly’s reply, highlight that the distinction between the “digital” and the “real” does not hold water as the “digital” is inherently rooted the “real.”  Adoption and diffusion of information technology does not happen in vacuum, but under physical and social constraints that constitute the “realities” on the ground.  The technology is not infused into existing societies and immediately starts processes of change, but it is appropriated, reinvented, and reinterpreted subject to the norms, customs, legal, political, and economic systems of the place and more.  That is not to say that adoption of the technology does not have an impact, but if we are to wear an activist hat and look for efficient ways of utilizing technology for civil activism, particularly under oppressive regimes, we should be blinded by the convenience of the artificial separation between the “digital” and “real.”

For me, the takeaway from this debate is that thinking about the role of political uses of “new” media it is important to keep the big picture in mind.  While those can be useful tools for enhancing the flow of information and potentially empower grassroots activism, the “digital” realm in itself does produce “real” change.  Revolutions, dissent, and political change are very “real” and are conducted through very tangible means.  Thus, while it is important to continue the discussion and the study of the political role of “new” media, the digital tools cannot be viewed as detached from the realities on the ground.

These are my thoughts.  What are yours?

Reading “Delete”

I wanted to post reflections on various readings here before, but never got to it.  This is my first attempt.  I just finished reading “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age” by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, who is directing the I+I Centre where I am spending this semester.  The book tackles the phenomenon of digital remembering, its potential social repercussions, and ways to address those.  On the publisher’s website it says that the book:

“…looks at the surprising phenomenon of perfect remembering in the digital age, and reveals why we must reintroduce our capacity to forget. Digital technology empowers us as never before, yet it has unforeseen consequences as well…  In Delete, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger traces the important role that forgetting has played throughout human history, from the ability to make sound decisions unencumbered by the past to the possibility of second chances. The written word made it possible for humans to remember across generations and time, yet now digital technology and global networks are overriding our natural ability to forget–the past is ever present, ready to be called up at the click of a mouse. Mayer-Schönberger examines the technology that’s facilitating the end of forgetting–digitization, cheap storage and easy retrieval, global access, and increasingly powerful software–and describes the dangers of everlasting digital memory, whether it’s outdated information taken out of context or compromising photos the Web won’t let us forget. He explains why information privacy rights and other fixes can’t help us, and proposes an ingeniously simple solution–expiration dates on information–that may.”

However, I think the book talks more about issues of information control and management, where forgetting is an important mechanism that allows the users to exercise their agency in an environment, which is becoming more and more information-intensive. The first half of the book is dedicated to setting the stage. It is a rather detailed and rich account of the history of the contemporary information environment particularly print, evolution of the memory devices and information storage, and development of information governance institutions (defined in broader terms) such as copyright. While I was aware of some of the stories, many of them were rather new to me. For example, did you know that the subject index, as an alphabetical list of topics covered in a book, was introduced in thirteenth century, but the idea of adding page numbers to the index to ease the actual navigation was added only in the sixteenth century? Quite interesting.

DeleteCoverTelling this history Mayer-Schönberger draws a picture of ever growing body of information about us, as individual members of society, and the way we may interact with it, even if in an indirect way. One of his favorite examples is the story of Stacy Snyder who was denied her teaching certificate because of a picture she had posted on MySpace of her dressed as a drunken pirate. The gist of the argument, if I read it correctly, is that while it becomes easier and cheaper to collect and store information about us and our behavior, we, as individuals, are losing more and more control over that information (once you or somebody else posts your picture online, you no longer have control over where it may appear, who may see it, and in what context). He labels it in terms of remembering and forgetting – if in the past it was difficult and costly to remember and easy and cheap to forget, this balance has reversed.

These days it is so easy and cheap to remember that we start losing our ability to forget. The repercussions of this development are that the accessible, durable, and comprehensive digital record of our past directly impacts the way we conduct and make decisions in the present. For example, I know that once this post will be published, it will become a permanent record of my take on “Delete”. Knowing that, I should probably be very careful with what I say about it, because it may impact my future interaction not just with Viktor (with whom I am currently working), but also with other potential readers of this post. I may choose to self censor myself, to present a biased view, or abstain from publishing it altogether. The point is that my behavior today is guided by the uncertainty about the future uses of this information – on the one hand I know it is there to stay, probably attached to my name, but on the other hand, I have no idea who, when, and under what circumstances will use and interpret this post.

To better understand this idea, I think it is helpful to focus on some aspects of socio-psychological functioning of information, which Mayer-Schönberger discusses in length in the book. One of those aspects is interpretation. The bits and bytes in themselves do not mean much, unless we interpret them (similar to the idea of data in knowledge management). It is through interpretation that the information gains meaning and thus also social functions. This leads to another important aspect, which is context. In different contexts we will interpret the same information differently and this is one of the dangers of digitized memory – information is recorded in a certain time and in a given context, but when it gets retrieved at a different time and in a different context, it will likely have different meaning. Thus we are losing control over the interpretation and meaning of the digital information about us and our behavior. When we, as individuals, are losing control over the information, we are becoming powerless compared to other actors (like the state and the corporate world) who have the capacity to collect, store, and retrieve information about us, thus making them even more powerful (they know more about us than we know about them and they control the interpretation process of information about us). Another aspect of this is the negation of time, which threats our ability to make rational decision in the present. Instead of focusing on the big picture, we are focusing on managing the mundane details of our lives, because those are recorded and stored and will have impact on us in the future.

The shift of control over information and negation of time are at the heart of Mayer-Schönberger’s concern with digital remembering. The rest the book is dedicated to analysis of potential responses to this concern and finally a proposal of an alternative solution. The book lists six different potential responses, each addresses either the power or the time aspect of digital remembering on one of the three levels: individual, law, and technology. The six solutions are digital abstinence, information privacy rights, digital privacy rights (sort of a DRM for personal information), cognitive adjustment, information ecology, and perfect contextualization. Each one of the approaches has its merits, but each one also has its drawbacks either at the conceptual or practical levels.

Mayer-Schönberger suggests expiration date for information as his solution to the negative effects of digital remembering. On the face of it, this is a rather straight forward idea – we need a piece of meta-data attached to each bit of information, which will determine how long this bit of information should be retained. Of course, his suggestion is much more nuanced and he goes into various scenarios of different ways in which information can be forgotten or partially forgotten, but I hope my one-line explanation carries over the gist of the argument. Mayer-Schönberger acknowledges in his book that expiration date addresses the time-related aspect of digital remembering, but it does little at the “power” front. In fact, the “power” is supposedly influenced indirectly, as by allowing automatic deletion of information the powerful side in the interaction is giving up some of its powers (if my power stems from having information about you and being able to mine it for my purposes, giving up the control over when this information is deleted, is equivalent to giving up part of my power).

I think that the main weakness of the expiration date argument lies not in the fact that it focuses primarily on the “time” aspect of the issue, but in the fact that it puts great hopes into the agency of the user. The idea of expiration dates gives user the power to decide for each and every piece of information how long they want to retain it. However, I am still slightly skeptical whether the user will use that power, because it comes with a cost. This idea assumes that (1) people want to make a decision about each bit of information they process and (2) they are capable of estimating the usable time span of each and every bit. I am not sure that people are that zealous about managing their information and are that thoughtful about the future prospects of its use. Just imagine if you had to decide for each one of the 300 pictures from your last trip, how long you want to retain it… wouldn’t it be easier just to keep them all? … just in case?

However, I think the main task of “Delete” is not offering a practical solution (that may be better done through establishing a startup :), but undertaking a rather ambitious conceptual and educational task – bringing the idea of “finitness of information” (p.171) into the public consciousness.  There may be numerous socio-technical solution to the negative effects of digital remembering, but you need a well stated argument to start thinking in that direction.  I think this is what “Delete” is trying to achieve.

Here is also Viktor’s talk about the book at Berkman, just about a month and a half ago (caution: it is rather long – over an hour):

A glimpse at the Israeli tech

I have recently encountered some news articles discussing Israel and technology, so I thought I’d share a couple of observations: one about where Israelis are spending their time online and another one about the Israeli high-tech industry and its main challenge.

As to the first observations, it turns out that the five most popular websites in Israel are: Google (92.3%), Walla! (67.2%), Facebook (61.2%), Ynet (58.4%), and YouTube (54.9%). This is interesting and slightly surprising at the same time.  It is interesting because Facebook has outperformed Ynet and the Israeli equivalents of YouTube are nowhere near the top runners.  It is also interesting because US brands are occupying three out of top 5 places.  Of course in all of them, the users can do practically everything in Hebrew, but still, the local attempts to offer search, social networking, and online video, are not doing very well.

These statistics are also surprising, because there is an image of Israelis as being obsessed with news, but it seems like the social interactions are currently more interesting to them compared to the biometric database law and such.  Perhaps this is a sign of relative calm in the region.  Also, to me, one of the surprising aspects of the numbers above was that Walla! outperformed Ynet in popularity, because I was under the impression that Ynet is far more popular.  Perhaps that can be explained by the fact that Walla! offers not only news, but also email, shopping, and more (the exclamation mark in the name is there for a reason – they are taking the Yahoo! approach).  This may also be an explanation to why Ynet has recently offered its registered users a free email with unlimited capacity.

Asked explicitly about their browsing habits at work, the respondents to the survey listed the  same five websites at the top, but in a slightly different order: Google (87.8%), Ynet (52.8%), Walla! (47.9%), Facebook (31.2%),  and YouTube (25.3%).  It looks like the working people value news more than socializing and entertainment, but since I don’t have the actual survey in front of me, it hard to tell much.

As to the second observation, there is a new book out there, trying to analyze the success of the Israeli high-tech.  From its description the book sounds a bit too poetic (almost like a marketing brochure), but it cites  some interesting numbers and voices an important warning.  For example, there are around 3,850 start-up companies in Israel today and in 2008 the volume of venture capital investments in Israel was 2.5 higher compared to that in the US.  If you compare the per capita venture capital investment, the volumes in Israel are 30 times higher compared to Europe, 80 times higher compared to India, and 300 times higher compared to China (well, I guess this is one good thing about being a small country).  There are 63 Israeli companies traded on NASDAQ, which is the larger group of foreign companies from a single country on that exchange (the second largest group is Canada with 48 companies).  Finally, it turns out that Israel has one of the highest rates of investment in civil R&D in the world.  According to the article the country invests 4.5% (of its GDP I assume, because the article does not clarify that) in civil R&D, compared to 3.2% in Japan (the second largest) and 2.7% in the US (the third largest).

The book discusses a number of factors that contributed to the entrepreneurial culture and innovation in Israel (such as the immigration and combination of the army service and good higher education) and highlights one factor that endangers it all.  The authors, Dan Senor and Saul Singer, suggest that the state of the K-12 education in Israel is degrading and something needs to be done if Israel wants to maintain its innovative-entrepreneurial advantage – and I tend to agree.  I have not read the actual book, so I am not sure what exactly they are proposing, but I think it is good that this problem is getting attention in something that will probably become a popular read in the industry.