September 10, 2011

How to secure revolution in Silicon Valley

Category: Academic,Internet — Biella @ 9:07 am

This is the best response (from someone on IRC) to this (simplistic) claim about net access and revolt in Egypt featured in the New York Times:

[m] “In a widely circulated American Political Science Association conference paper, Yale scholar Navid Hassanpour argues that shutting down the internet made things difficult for sustaining a centralized revolutionary movement in Egypt. But, he adds, the shutdown actually encouraged the development of smaller revolutionary uprisings at local levels where the face-to-face interaction between activists was more intense and the mobilization of inactive lukewarm
[m] maybe we’ll have some more fiber optic cable cuts in silicon valley and then the revolution will happen

April 23, 2009

Viral Videos

Category: Humor,Internet,Memes — Biella @ 11:46 am

I am sure many have seen this video pirates. drugs. gay marriage and I think it speaks for itself. But I have to say, this video caught be off guard early this morning when I am first exposed to the day’s viral videos, memes, and other savory and unsavory delights. Though I have been consuming and digesting this stuff for awhile now, I am still amazed by the craziness, creativity, outrageousness (often offense) that circulates every day, without fail, on the internets.

Most of the stuff, even if pretty low brow can be said to be artistic in one classical sense of art: ”l’art pour l’art”, with the aesthetics being focused on some combination of shock, irony, and humor.

But how about the political activists? They are not dipping into this genre enough and it’s high time they use start using these tactics/viral videos to shock/shame their opponents, using the sugar coating of humor and raw audacity to spread their message.

April 5, 2009

Does the patent system make you queasy?

Category: Academic,Internet,IP Law,New York — Biella @ 6:26 pm

Great research opportunity for PhD Students out there.

Peer to Patent Summer Research Fellowship
New York Law School
Summer 2009

Peer to Patent is the groundbreaking program developed by New York Law School and run in cooperation with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office, along with the assistance of a number of private stakeholders. It harnesses the power of citizen-experts to assist patent examiners by searching for, identifying, and annotating prior art relevant to pending patent applications. A first Peer to Patent pilot was launched in June 2007. During the first year the project participants (peer reviewers) assisted in the prior art searches on 40 patent applications, generating 173 items of prior art. These items of prior art were the basis of rejection in over ten of the patent applications considered. In June 2008 the pilot was continued for a second year, and was recently extended to encompass a pilot program in the United Kingdom.

Research Issue
Although Peer to Patent has attracted over 350 active peer reviewers, the project team has little or no idea as to the motivations that cause these individuals voluntarily to contribute their substantial time to the project. The average reviewer spent approximately six hours searching and annotating individual patent applications. The project team also does not fully understand the best means for attracting additional peer reviewers to the project. In order for the project to scale to larger volumes of applications, both of these points need to be understood and addressed. More generally and theoretically, the motivations of citizens in producing material for governmental use are not well-understood. This fellowship seeks to provide an account of this sort of activity, as well as generate a design for a controlled study of incentive mechanisms for these sorts of activities.

Research Activity
The selected fellow will conduct interviews among a meaningful number of currently active peer reviewers to elicit their motivations for participating in the project and contributing their time. The fellow will review the non-profit motivation literature to provide a number of alternative methods of reward to determine whether any or all of them would induce the participants to continue their participation, increase their participation, encourage others to participate, or cease their participation altogether. Potential rewards may include: (a) basic recognition; (b) monetary interest; (c) cash awards; (d) prominent public recognition; (e) some other form of reward; or (f) no reward whatsoever. The fellow will develop a survey to be conducted among a wider segment of active and potential peer reviewers to test for validation of the data gathered in the initial sampling. From the results of the initial sampling, literature review, and survey, the fellow will develop findings on which to base an incentive program to attract and retain peer reviewers. The fellow will develop an experimental design to test the efficacy of each of these incentive possibilities.

The fellowship will commence on or about June 1, 2009 and will continue until on or about August 31, 2009. The fellowship is a full time position for the three months stipulated; but this is open to negotiation for an exceptional candidate.


September 16, 2008

What Generation?

Category: Academic,Internet — Biella @ 10:40 am

Siva Vaidhyanathan has written a short piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education that make a simple but very important move: he demystifies the idea that most youth in the US, much less the world, are part a tech-savvy generation.

The point should be made as there are a slew of not only journalists (who let’s face it, exaggerate and simplify and well, there is not much we can do about it) but academics making making and circulating claims. These not only don’t hold much water, but also hide some serious disparities out there when it comes to access and also hides the fact that the phenomena people extend to wide swaths of the population are usually far more circumscribed and cultural in their orientation.

I think his point hit home recently because my class on an uber-techie subject, hackers, is primarily composed of students who have never started a blog, don’t read blogs, have never used much less heard of RSS feed etc. I am not saying this either to disparage this fact (I am envious of these students in fact) but just to say note that those who are quite intimate with technology (and there is a small cluster of students in my class who represent such groups) are in fact a slice of the pie. This is an interesting slice and one that I study and one that I find really really interesting and can be used to track some braoder shifts and changes but in a far more limited register.

But I think we should be suspect of any move that takes the slice to stand in for the whole pie. This rhetorical embellishment is one that I have come to expect form journalists (for better or for worse) but I am less forgiving of the academics who partake in this problematic form of puffery, in what is a leap over people’s everyday reality and into the realm of imagination, which is better left to fiction.

April 30, 2008

The Future of the Internet Depends on its Past

Category: Ethics,F/OSS,Internet,IP Law,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 8:41 am

A few weeks ago, NYU hosted an interesting event about the future of the Internet, appropriately tittled The Futures of the Internet, the video of which is now available here. One of the panelists was Jonathan Zittrain (who recently wrote an important new book bearing the same name as the event) and during the talk he provided a few ideas about how geeks and developers can help secure the Future of the Internet. While I agree with a lot—in fact most—of his assessments about the state and fate of the Internet as he lays out in his book and his talks, his characterization of geek/hacker/developer politics is not one of them.

Basically, one of Zittrain’s claims is that developers are not doing enough to save the Future of the Internet and it is their rampant, Atlas-like libertarianism, which is, in part, to blame (first made 37:20 minutes into the video for those who want to listen to the actual comments). They have little-to-no “political consciousness,” are “too cool” to care about the “fine print” and they don’t care about the broader politics of the the Internet because they assume that they can just hack around any sort of barrier and impediment.

While we can, without a doubt, identify a strain of libertarianism among hackers, it is by no means representative of all of geekdom and in fact, is becoming more and more a worn out 1990s stereotype/cliché as time passes than an accurate representation of what is a far more variegated set of ethics and practices among hackers (and I will soon publish an article on this topic).

It also completely fails to capture the ethical spirit as well as sociological, and political workings of one of the most important strains of hacking—free and open source software—which not only powers most of our (open) Internet but which in fact has provided a pretty hefty ethical backbone by which to conceptualize one of the ways we should think about the fight for the future of the Internet.

Ok, time for a rant now :-)

Geeks not only designed the Internet, an indisputably revolutionary medium, but also implemented, and continue to maintain it, and then in their copious spare time, also engage in fighting back the political, legal and corporate encroachment which threatens to limit the very revolutionary nature of the Internet (as Chris Kelty’s new book on Free Software argues). If these acts by geeks are not enough political action, then maybe the development of not just one, but multiple entirely open and free alternatives to the only two proprietary operating systems that exist today might be a political act that would satisfy? Many would agree that even simply using a free operating system is a political act. It would be better to claim that individuals, lawyers and other political actors are not doing enough to save the Future of the Internet, rather than imploring the already overtaxed geeks to set aside everything that they are already doing to do something even more.

(end rant)

It also seems that when it comes to political questions related to the Internet, net neutrality being the hot topic now, or fighting restrictive and problematic laws like the DMCA, one of the only groups of people (outside of lawyers and librarians) to actually understand and dissect the fine print (and geeks actually are pretty attuned to and like to dissect the fine legal print), to protest these unsavory laws, and to support the organizations who are doing something about it (like the EFF), are geeks and hackers. While many geeks are not necessarily keen on conceptualizing their labor in traditional political terms, or aligning their technical projects with a political affiliation, and yes would rather just be writing good code, they do fight for their productive freedom and this productive freedom just happens to relate to most questions and concerns related to an open, accessible, and tweakable Internet, built by the geeks, lest we forget

What was perhaps most surprising was that he also seemed to think that geeks and developers have not turned to “apprenticeship,” nor policies and procedure to coordinate their development projects, unlike Wikipedia, which he considers a shining example that geeks should look towards as a beacon of policy that geeks should consider emulating in their projects (comments made answering my question). He clearly has not been hanging out with any Debian developers in the last 10 years nor has he gone through their New Maintainer Process ;-)

In other words, he seems to think they are allergic to regulation due to their accentuated libertarianism, or are against structure because of their anarchism, neither which is remotely true. I think I found this characterization most ironic and problematic for before Wikipedia was even an entry on a Wiki, projects like Debian (and most other F/OSS projects) were transforming and changing to integrate normative procedures and policies that allowed a group of people to work together, scale, grow and deal with crises’. No, they don’t have the Wikipedia “badge” system, but that system is emblematic of Wikipedia’s own transformation into integrating its own normative procedures and policies for working together, not an example of an idealized policy system that other projects are too primitive to have evolved into yet.

About one hour into the talk when questions opened up, I objected to his characterization, but given his answer back to me, I did not make much of a dent in his thinking. Another lawyer Tim Wu (who also wrote a wonderful book on the Internet) chimed in to give me some props and also made a good point that even if geeks are the only groups of people who would “storm AT&T” and know intimately about the importance of net neutrality, there is a lot of room for thinking about how to strengthen and improve the tactics and politics among geeks and developers so that we can ensure the type of open and “generative” Internet and set of technologies we value.

As part of thinking and rethinking new strategies, it is as key to acknowledge and honor the past. In this regard, free software development has been pivotal both in terms of providing software (and making it is an important political act as is choosing to use free software over propriety software) and a set of important set of ideas that a lot of lawyers like Yochai Benkler and Lawrence Lessig have run with to make some important political claims of their own.

So despite my rant above, which was a rant and thus exaggerates things to some degree, I do think there is much more that geeks and non-geeks can do, such as help translate these uber-geeky issues into less geeky terms (and actually this is already being done by some geeks as the work of Jelena Karanovic has shown, or translate the technical issues into new domains as the uber-geek Karl Fogel is doing with question copyright but first lets give credit where credit it due and recognize that labor is political