Leaks, Whistle-Blowers and the Networked News Ecology

WikiLeaks is one of the defining stories of the internet, which means by now, one of the defining stories of the present, period. At least four large-scale trends which permeate our societies as a whole are fused here into an explosive mixture whose fall-out is far from clear. First is a change in the materiality of communication. Communication becomes more extensive, more recorded, and the records become more mobile. Second is a crisis of institutions, particularly in western democracies, where moralistic rhetoric and the ugliness of daily practice are diverging ever more at the very moment when institutional personnel are being encouraged to think more for themselves. Third is the rise of new actors, 'super-empowered' individuals, capable of intervening into historical developments at a systemic level. Finally, fourth is a structural transformation of the public sphere (through media consolidation at one pole, and the explosion of non-institutional publishers at the other), to an extent that rivals the one described by Habermas with the rise of mass media at the turn of the 20th century.

Autonomy and Control in the Era of Post-Privacy

Open: Post Privavy Cover Researcher Felix Stalder analyses the loss of the key role of the concept of privacy. Privacy long secured the balance between the control of institutions and the autonomy of the citizen. Today, with institutions aiming more and more to provide customized services and the autonomy of both citizens and institutions changing, this role is disappearing, making the danger of an increase in control and power a realistic one. To turn the tide, Stalder argues for a greater transparency of the back-end protocols, algorithms and procedures of the new, flexible bureaucracies.

Source: Open. Cahier on Art and the Public Domain. # 19: Beyond Privacy. New Notions of the Private and Public Domains

One way to characterize Western modernity, the period we are just leaving, is by its particular structure of control and autonomy. It emerged as the result of two historic developments – one leading to large, hierarchic bureaucracies as the dominant form of organization, the other to the (bourgeois, male) citizen as the main political subject. Privacy played a key role in maintaining a balance between the two. Today, this arrangement is unravelling. In the process, privacy loses (some of) its social functions. Post-privacy, then, points to a transformation in how people create autonomy and how control permeates their lives.

Predicting Human Mobility through phone tracking

A range of applications, from predicting the spread of human and electronic viruses to city planning and resource management in mobile communications, depend on our ability to foresee the whereabouts and mobility of individuals, raising a fundamental question: To what degree is human behavior predictable? Here we explore the limits of predictability in human dynamics by studying the mobility patterns of anonymized mobile phone users. By measuring the entropy of each individual’s trajectory, we find a 93% potential predictability in user mobility across the whole user base. Despite the significant differences in the travel patterns, we find a remarkable lack of variability in predictability, which is largely independent of the distance users cover on a regular basis.

Source: Chaoming Song; Zehui Qu; Nicholas Blumm, Albert-László Barabási: Limits of Predictability in Human Mobility, Science 19 February 2010: Vol. 327. no. 5968, pp. 1018 - 1021

Google vs Mozilla

The Register has an interesting article on the growing tensions between Google and Mozilla. It highlights the dangers of monopoly and the fundamental differences between non-profit and for-profit corporations and their outlook on the world.

"I look at Google and I don't see a lot of alignment with the big picture of the internet," says Asa Dotzler, the ten-year Mozilla vet who was among the team of three or four who founded the Firefox project back in 2002.

"Google is essentially an advertising company. That's where they make their money. They provide a wonderful service - primarily their search service - but it serves their advertising goals. It serves their revenue goals. The more they can know about their users, the more effective they believe they can advertise, the more money they believe they can make. That is most fundamental."

Distributed Financing for Terrorism

The NYT has an article that the Taliban's financial resources have been diversifying. Most interestingly, their number one source of money is no longer drug-related (though that is still important) but stems from donations.

The C.I.A. recently estimated in a classified report that Taliban leaders and their associates had received $106 million in the past year from donors outside Afghanistan (...). Private citizens from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and some Persian Gulf nations are the largest individual contributors (...) there is no evidence so far that the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or other Persian Gulf states are providing direct aid to the Afghan insurgency.

Back in the days when states were the main actors in international politics and security matters, it was impossible to run a guerrilla war without some outside state backing it. The Soviets would never haven been defeated in Afghanistan without the CIA financing and equipping the mujahedeen. This seems no longer to the case. While this is not directly related to the ability to pool small resources for major projects characteristic of many internet-based organizations, it seems in line with a general trend that it becomes more easy to aggregate the resource of large, loosely organized networks.

Ipoque Study of Internet Traffic

Ipoque Internet Study, 2008-2009
Yet another indicator that filesharing is not going away, even if video-streaming is growing more rapidly.

Some of the key findings of the study are:

  • P2P generates most traffic in all regions
  • The proportion of P2P traffic has decreased BitTorrent is still number one of all protocols, HTTP second
  • The proportion of eDonkey is much lower than last year
  • File hosting has considerably grown in popularity
  • Streaming is taking over P2P users for video content
  • Usenet, a file sharing alternative for P2P, appears in the statistics for the first time

print-on-demand for google books

CNet has this story, highlighting the two way processes of digitization and materlialization

On Demand Books, makers of the Espresso Book Machine, are expected to announce Thursday that they have been granted access to Google's library of public domain digital books for use with their product. The Espresso Book Machine can print a 300-page book in four minutes, complete with a cover and a bound edge. It ranges in price from $75,000 to $97,000, depending on the configuration, and is found mostly at universities, libraries, and institutions around the globe.

The books thus produced are probably so cheap that it's more economical for libraries to simply give them away that to loan, track, process the return, and re-shelve them (which costs quite a bit, I think  Brewster Kahle,, once put a figure of $4 on it, though obviously that depends on a lot of variables.) See also this article with details on pricing (sales price at about $8 per book).

Visualization of remix Culture

Giorgos Cheliotis, assistant professor of Communications and New Media at the National University of Singapore done one of the, if not the, first network analysis and network visualization of a remix community, based on the ccMixter.

He writes:

One of the visualizations, consisting of all uploaded audio tracks that have been remixed and all remixes thereof, is shown below. I was very surprised by the structure, density and connectedness of the resulting network. I was expecting to see a more weakly connected set of “islands of common interest”, as defined by genre, friendships or location. Instead, before we even go into deeper analysis, the figure suggests that the creative reuse of cultural content (such as enabled by licenses like Creative Commons) leads to a very high degree of cross-pollination across authors and across works, forming a dense network of greatly enhanced collaboration and creativity through open sharing and reuse. We have posted a working paper and more cool hi-res visuals on the Participatory Media Lab wiki.

This seems to suggest that cultural -- or at least musical -- styles are becoming ever more fluid as the range of source is becoming ever more wide.

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