Category Archives: culture

How do young adults access websites?

I am currently at the fifth IGF in Vilnius and yesterday I presented some data from our study on the online routines of the digital natives at the GigaNet.  Here, i would like to share one observation that I find particularly interesting.  In the graph below you can see a summary of our coding of how our participants reached website during our observation sessions. It reflects coding of over 650 instance of accessing website in each China and the USArrivingAtAWebsite-Summary.

As we can see, in most cases, our participants searched; this is consistent across both groups and I think was not particularly surprising.  Similarly, the use of bookmarks was equally consistent across both groups, which in my view was more surprising (perhaps since I am not a big bookmark user).

The differences, as you can see, were in the use of autocomplete and reliance on links.  Interestingly, in the Chinese sample, there were significantly more instances of using reliance on links compared to the use of autocomplete.  In the US sample what we see is practically a mirror image of this trend – significantly larger proportion of instances involved the use of autocomplete.

What makes it even more interesting is a glimpse at where do the Chinese participants follow the links from.  We are still organizing that data, but my initial observation is that many of those are coming from websites that basically large repositories of links (for example take a look at www.2345.com or www.114la.com).

All this brings up some thoughts about the role of English in the online experience.  In my view, one plausable explanation of this data can be the knowledge of English language.  I can see how use of the autocomplete function comes more “naturally” to the native speakers, compared to those for whom English is a second language.  The large collections of links that were utilized by our Chinese participants, further support this idea – why would you make an effort of typing in an inconvenient language, when you can go to just one website, where all the links you use are?

There are currently more questions than statements suggested by the snippet above – there is still a lot of work to be done on these data.  Having said that, I’d love to hear your thought about this little observation.  Please share…

You can find the slides from the presentation here.

The duality of hoidays

Quoting my dear friend, Anichka: “Hello Two Thousand and Ten! You be good now.”  This is my first post in the new year and I would like to use this opportunity to share a short semi-theoretical observation.

There was an article in the NY Times titled “Saying No, No, No to the Ho-Ho-Ho.”  The article is about people who have decided not to celebrate Christmas in 2009.  People did it for various reasons, but the following quote from Renata Rafferty, a 53-year-old philanthropy adviser, I think summarizes the overall sentiment.  She said that she decided not to stress herself by “conforming to some tyranny of the ‘shoulds.’”

I think this idea of the “tyranny of ‘shoulds’” is a great example of social structures as those are defined in the Theory of Structuration.  We do things because this is the way it is, because we are used to.  This is how we grew up doing them and we do not think much about their meaning or why we partake in that specific activity.  People celebrate Christmas (or any other holiday for that matter) in a particular way because they should and because they grew up doing it that way.  People in many places over the world shop away the month of December, just because this is “expected” and constantly reinforced.  For example, until recently, once of the jewelry counters in a local mall, had a sign saying “Accessorize your love this Christmas” and that was the leitmotif of the entire holiday season elsewhere.

However, ideas such as those presented in the NYT article, are an example of reflexive monitoring of our behavior.  It provides a collection of opinion where people are discursively reflecting on their behavior, which in turn allows them to change it. The fact that this reflection is discursive allows others (like me, and now you reading this post) to reevaluate their behavior regarding that structure.  The interesting part in my eyes, that if you read the comments to the article you can see that this discursive reflection is used by some to reinforce their current behavior (particularly for those who don’t like what they see the holiday has become) or to alter it (the article was an “aha” moment for some of the readers) – all this happens in the context of how each one of those people is celebrating Christmas and how they grew up thinking about it (read, duality of structure).  Moreover, for yet another category of readers, especially those who like Christmas and the way it is celebrated, this discursive reflection caused to look for an alternative explanation as to why they think it should be kept the way it is.  Overall, there can be a great number of different reactions, but all of them would be fueled by the same reflective mechanism.

I think this is a really nice and interesting example of how the structuration works.  What do you think?  I only hope that I am not that owner of a hummer (theory) who views everything as nails (structuration).

NewYear2010

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?

Cretive Commons Monitor

I think if you are reading this blog, you must be familiar with Creative Commons (CC).  But have you ever wondered how widely spread this license actually is?  Well, there are people who are thinking about it and even started looking into the issue.  Giorgos Cheliotis is one of them.  He is currently a visiting scholar at Berkman and earlier this week he gave a talk about the CC Monitor project.

The project has been out there for three years, but the website is rather new and is still considered under development as the team is figuring out the best way to capture and analyze the use of CC licenses around the world.  They have built an online (wiki-based) platform/repository which presents the raw data and some visualizations for others to use and think about. This is what global distribution of CC licenses looks like.

Number of CC licenses globally
There are overall estimated 170,268,161 CC licenses in the world, but the map refers to a subset of them.  It includes only the ported (i.e. jurisdiction specific) licenses – those that could be linked to a specific geographic location.  Apparently, there are about 50 countries in the world that have strong CC communities who worked on translating and adopting the general licenses to the local jurisdiction.

The darker areas of the map correspond to the higher number of CC licenses in the country.  Here is for example what Europe looks like once we zoom in:

Numbers of CC licenses in Europe
If you go to the website, you can see the actual number once you hover over the map with your mouse.  The way they collect these data is through counting back-links (or in-links) to specific CC deed pages (like this one).  Of course it is not perfect, but it is more than what we had before and it is there for everyone to use.  The idea behind the site is to build a “live data wiki”, which brings its own challenges such as the data being updated constantly, but not the analysis and the explanations.

On the wiki you can find data about the individual countries and also what they call “freedom scores”.  These scores refers to the degree of openness of the licenses used in each place.  As you may know, there are different types of licenses one can give to his or her work.  This blog, for example, is licensed under by-nc-sa license, which would not score very high on the freedom scale (and I also need to fix things, so it would actually show here).  Overall, this is what the world looks like in terms of openness of the CC licenses:

Freedom index of CC licenses global
As before, the darker areas represent higher scores.  You may want to take a look at this table comparing the scores of different countries side by side.

If you have the time, I suggest you watch the talk (I wish it was possible to embed videos from Berkman website :).  Giorgos goes further into a case study, asking whether people utilize the CC licenses and actually work with the open content.  I know that I learned a lot about CC that I did not know about before.

Help me realize a dream!

For the first time in my life I am entering this kind of competition and I am really excited about it!

Microsoft and Lenovo have launched “Name Your Dream Assignment” competition.  They are going to give $50K to one of the top 20 photography projects that will win the popular vote on their website.

I just submitted mine and you can find it here (there is also a badge on the main page that is linked to my project).  Since there are space limitations for project descriptions, I also created a page here, on ThinkMacro, that has more details.  Please feel free to explore.

If you are reading this, I would really appreciate if you take a few minutes and vote for my project!

Please PIC IT!

An amazing talk by Benjamin Zander

Apparently, the secrete to enjoying classical music (and not only) is thinking macro :)

I think this is an amazing and very energetic talk by Benjamin Zander about classical music and his way of thinking.  It is totally worth the 21 minutes.

[HTML1]

I think he completely deserved the standing avation.

The best of YouTube and South Park combined!

This is totally random, but ridiculously funny! Whether you like South Park, YouTubeian phenomena, or both, this one combines them in a rather creative manner (it was a matter of time until someone would do it with this episode :). It definitely made me smile and i hope it will have the same effect on you. Thank you Veronica for sharing this!

Sex and the City (and the new media)

I will probably have to explain in person later to all those who wonder why I know that, but the official trailer for Sex and the City (the movie) is out and it is available on YouTube. Now this is where it is getting interesting…

If you look at the related videos on that YouTube page you will something that I don’t think was possible even just 10 years ago. Together with the official trailer you can see links to many amateur videos featuring the actual shooting of the film in NYC. For example this:

and this:

I find it fascinating. The entire idea of movie marketing and creating a buzz around new and anticipated creations is getting here to whole new level. People are talking about it, trying to guess what is going on, and are gaining a peak into the unknown and yet so expected. Whether the creators want that or not, the ubiquity of digital video recording allows the fans and even random people who were passing in the area to become part of the buzz around the movie.

And there is apparently an entire blog dedicated to the process of movie creation (probably not only one). It has pictures, video clips, and commentary about the upcoming movie – most of which is generated by fans and the rest by the blog owner. The disclaimer on blog sais it is not affiliated with the movie or HBO and the domain ownership is routed back to Ontario, Canada. But thinking about this, nobody stops HBO from doing the same and encouraging similar behavior because after all it helps promoting their movie.

My brief observation of this incident made me thinking about the ongoing battle between the traditioal movie industry establishment and what is labeled as “new” media. I think it shows how in fact the two can coexist in a new type of culture. Not a type of culture where there are creators, people who are ripped off, and thieves of original content, but a type of culture where there are creators and their fans and the two coexist and feed each other (both creatively and financially). However it seems as if it will take a long time or a sudden shift in thinking (particularly by the industry) for this new types of culture to emerge. Anyhow, we live in interesting times…

Fun bubble 2.0 + some thoughts on FB

Thanks to Eszter for posting this:

On a different note, i keep on following the buzz about Facebook (FB) criticism due to deployment of Beacon platform.  For those who did not have a chance to follow, recently FB launched a platform that allows them to follow you to third-party websites (anybody said spyware?) and if you make a purchase there, news about it would go to your FB news feed (for your friends to see, follow your opinion leadership, and of course go and buy something from that company).  Of course they do not follow you to any website, but only to those who have an advertising agreement with FB, but nevertheless, this move raised a lot of antagonism and questions of privacy.  It also unleashed a wave of critique of FB and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg.

One of the things i noticed recently is people being surprised by FB non-responsiveness to the PR crisis it is going through.  The assumption is that to manage this wave of negativity, FB has to make substantive changes to the Beacon platform followed by a massive PR campaign.  Although i have my own critique of FB and more so questions about the nature of their business and its long-term sustainability, this later wave, particularly expectations for response, made me thinking.

I wonder if Zuckerberg’s strategy of ignoring the critique is actually the correct one.  I remember about over a year ago, FB introduced the news feed.  Back then it raised a lot of criticism from the privacy advocates and there was, not as strong, but still noticeable, negative buzz about FB.  I don’t remember the company investing as much in PR back then.  What it did was adding a couple of tweaks to make its users feel as if they were in charge of their privacy and in a matter of a couple of months the wave of negativity died and, as we can see today, people are happily using the feed.  In fact, can we imagine FB without the news feed these days?

Now, following the current criticism, FB also added some minor tweaks to the Beacon platform, and is now waiting for the wave of criticism to path.  The main threat to FB when its users would start massively leaving it.  Getting the users angry by exposing their Christmass surprises is indeed a step in that direction.  But in my (unsupported by any kind of evidence) opinion this is not enough.  Simply because most of FB users do not care or do not realize what is going on.  Talking to my friends, for example, i gain further support to an intuition that people don’t really view it as a big deal.  They continue logging into their FB account, poke each other, bite, send virtual gifts and drinks, etc.  and at the end of the day this is all FB needs.

So, from FB point of view,the business is as usual and all they need to do is wait until the critique in mass media and the blogosphere dies out.  After all how long can this be news/blog-worthy?  People will get bored and it will happen sooner than we can think.  Once the wave of negative publicity is no longer there, the advertisers will come back, and the next thing we know Beacon will be a recognized standard in the industry.  Doesn’t it sound as a logic scenario?

I still have a sense that the basic idea behind FB is bubblish (linking back to the video :), but maybe at the end of the day, FB is actually more strategic about how it is handling the current crisis than what it appears in the press and the blogosphere?

Constructing ‘digital divide’ in Russian

From an explanation about ‘digital divide‘ in Russian Wikipedia:

Термин появился как обозначение раскола в семье, когда муж слишком много времени проводил за компьютером в ущерб всему остальному, и жена не могла с этим смириться.

My unprofessional translation:

The concept emerged to convey a split in a family, when the husband would spend too much time with the computer instead of doing other things, and the wife could not bear with it.