What is the internet?

I asked my little nephew and niece (7 and 9) and my aunt (in her 70s) what the internet is. (I translated their responses from Flemish).

Me: “But what IS the internet?”
Niece: “The internet is where everything comes together… where all the information comes together”.

Me: “What’s the difference between your computer and the internet?”
Nephew: “on the internet you can find programs all over the world, and on your computer you only find a few files that are yours.”

Me: “What is the internet?”
Auntie (70+): “So when are you going to India? … The internet is when you can write to everyone…” (she doesn’t have internet access.)

Me: “What is patience?”
Nephew: “You have to have patience when the sand-clock is there.” (refering to the icon that indicates the computer is working.)

I have all this on video, but haven’t asked for permission to post it yet.

Walmart’s motto: “don’t be evil”?

People seem to really want the Google OS to compete with the Microsofts and AOL’s of this world. There are calls for a Google IM client or a Google Browser, and these are not based on rumors of Google working on these projects. They are just “wouldn’t this be cool” kind of ideas.

Google’s “don’t be evil” motto is one of the strongest branding exercises of the decade. What I hope is that this example will lead the way for a wave of realizations (books, gurus) about how large companies that explicitly try to be NOT evil get tons of consumer goodwill. And I hope that in turn, other companies (Coca Cola, Walmart) will start feeling the effects of that. I don’t think we can get rid of large transnational companies. But we need to change their values, at least a little bit.

More News” “Better search engines, classification tools and taxonomies have their place %u2014 particularly in large organizations that have been through mergers and reorganizations. But don’t let big investments become a Band-Aid for poor training and a lack of best practices.”

In other words: teach your people to do basic basic labeling and organizing, instead of spending big $$ on fancy tools.


E M E R G I C . o r g: July 22, 2004 Archives: “Two years ago, it would have been hard to imagine that Indians would be buying cellphones at the rate of nearly 2 million a month. Similarly, today, it is hard to imagine a broadband India – but that is exactly what we are about to see. The next couple years will see Indian consumers and enterprises enveloped in ubiquitous, high-speed connectivity from multiple sources – wireless, DSL, cable and satellite. Complement this with WiFi-enabled laptops and smartphones, and the always-on world is at hand.”


Just a thought (nothing statistically relevant) about internet technology dispersion and acceptance.

When I ask people here (Belgium) who don’t use the internet, it’s mostly older people, and mostly because they “can’t use the computer”. Non-use seems to be mostly by choice. One lady told me she’d rather spend her free time outside. Another told me her husband always does everything. They also seem to be having a hard time imagining exactly why they should learn this new technology. But none of them had real worries about being able to learn it if they had to.

I’ve always wondered why third world companies don’t sell more of their fantastic crafts (they have the manpower) to the first world over the internet. I’m sure the reasons are many and complex. Here’s a story of a company that actually does that.

A lot of stories about technology in rural areas often don’t have much to say except for how rural it all is, and how amazing that they now have access to technology x or y. Like this one about PC’s set up in a remote area, titled “These PCs came on elephant’s back”. Wired has one titled “Indian Villagers Pedal Wireless“, a bit more in depth. It’s the exotism (look at how different they are!) of many of these stories that annoys me sometimes – although I also enjoy some exotism, it shouldn’t be the only reason for the story. I’m more interested in figuring out how technology and social worlds interact.

By the way, this funny ad came was on the page:

rediff.com: Nyala ‘unaffected’ by Clinton visit

rediff.com: Nyala ‘unaffected’ by Clinton visit: “What about the IT revolution in the village, the computerised milk co-operative society of women and much-hyped internet-connected panchayat, a first in Rajasthan? “Our panchayat is yet to get a telephone connection and you ask about the internet,” says sarpanch Kalu Meena. The computer on which ‘tutored’ women members of the co-operative demonstrated their skill to President Clinton is lying unused.”

Last (W)rites: The Indian PC (aka %u201CWhat women want.%u201D :-) )

Last (W)rites: The Indian PC (aka What women want. :-) )
Let me expand on this perspective – if you start to profile the average Indian PC buyer what stands out notably is he is more often than not a she. If we regard women as the central figure of an average middle class Indian family, what are we specifically doing today to ensure that the PC addresses some common scenarios around Indian housewives?”

In a way, he his saying that the computer needs to be socially and culturally “constructed” (by adjusting it to the needs of these users) while at the same time constructing the users (through classes, advertising, …) and letting both user and technology construct each other. It relates to the social co-construction of users and technology, something I’ve written about a bit since I read a book with the same subtitle.

Sign blogging!

Jay has the fire and passion and is becoming an excellent blogger. In Momentshowing: Warning: imagination running wild he gives a clear overview of the vision for videoblogging. Read it if you wonder why we’re doing all this.

He also points to Rob Wilks: “a young man living in Wales. He’s engaged to be married, looking for work, and is deaf. He found our videoblogging group and freaked out a little. He saw that videoblogs is just what he needed to post messages..in sign language. He calls them sign blogs.” None of use saw this coming. Sign blogs. In a discussion on the list we were explained how, sure, if you’re deaf you can read as well, but i you were born deaf, it’s often harder to read. It’s like a foreign language, because for reading you need auditory memory which you wouldn’t have. Sign blogging. Who knew?

Test playlist for India

I made a SMIL playlist for Quicktime, combining the text and links of blog entries with the video in them. I hope to provide this as an alternative way of viewing my videoblogging during my Indiatrip. So any user experience-type or technical feedback is welcome! Click the button to try it.
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Blogging ethnographic source material – blogging like an anthropologist

While I am in India, I plan to videoblog daily (although intermittant internet access might make that hard). I also plan to do some ethnography-like research, and blog my source material.

Blogging the source material (I’ll make an effort to indicate where I am interpreting stuff), hopefully, will enable others to reinterpret it. What’s more, I hope it will start a conversation that will make the resulting interpretation much more refined that what I could have come up with myself.

In practice, that means that I’ll transcribe interviews. I’ll put video and photomaterial online. I’ll mix those materials with my notes, and then leave it up to my esteemed audience (that’s all 6 of you!) to discuss.

That’s the clearest I’ve been able to explain what I have in mind. I’ll try again later. See also: how to blog like an anthropologist.

Information architecture and user experience in Belgium

Yesterdays Belgium IA beer hour was a great success. I’ll try to describe the Belgium IA/UX scene as I understand it so far. Belgium/Dutch dudes and ladies: please correct me!

We met in one of the best unknown brown bars of Antwerp, “de Kat”. I was happy with the exellent group we got together. We even had two people from Holland join us (Peter J. Bogaards came all the way from Amsterdam and Marcel van Mackelenbergh was there also).

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It’d be pretty nuice if Firefox would offer to optimize a picture (into JPG) before you email it (and remember your response). Now, emailing a picture out of your collection means optimizing it first, a rather techie process that really shouldn’t be necessary. It just makes sharing pictures harder. What would your mom want?

The human side of innovation: Ethan Zuckerman: the WorldChanging Interview

WorldChanging: Another World Is Here: Ethan Zuckerman: the WorldChanging Interview: “The community of people who blog right now are largely wealthy, white European and American technocrats. The stories that come out the community and tend to get amplified tend to be stories having to do with having to do with technology and American politics.
That’s why a blogging community that pays attention to the rest of the world is so important. If bloggers talk about what’s happening in Africa, say, that not only means that more people have access to information about what’s going on there, it also means that there’s a countervailing force which shows the editors at the New York Times that people are interested enough in these issues to read about them.”

Encouraging people to blog in Ghana is all well and good, but at the moment, most of the interesting debate there is happening on talk radio.
Empowering individuals, for example, to avoid systematic corruption — that’s the kind of project which has leverage. Put the customs service online. Customs is a place where there’s an enormous amount of corruption, where goods come in the door and lots of money changes hands under the table. If you can put that system online, it becomes much harder to subvert.
We tend to think of information technology as inherently and essentially democratizing. It’s not. A lot of it comes down to who gets the tools first. When it’s the activists and the artists and the kids, the technology looks and behaves one way. When repressive governments catch on, and realize that they can use these tools, too, very different things happen.
If you look at the situation in Sudan, it’s very clear that the Sudanese government has been hiring pr professionals for decades to try to figure out how to deal with its public relations problems. And while you’ve got lots and lots of people standing up and saying Sudan is a genocidal regime, go online and you’ll discover tons of websites essentially arguing the contrary. Trace those sites to their roots and you find they belong to a small number of organizations who are tied to a Sudan-American or Sudan-UK “friendship” organization of some sort or another. The same sort of grassroots techniques we’re trying to use to get people to talk about and organize about these issues are getting used by dictators. ”

An obvious yet profound insight is that we can’t build the tools the third world needs without their help.

“If you want to build a tool that will be useful for political activism in Central Asia, you’d damned well better have some Central Asians involved in the process. But at this point, that sort of inclusion is just not happening.
You need people who understand who understand the local problems and also have the skills to write the code.”

As you might have gathered from the extensive quoting, a must-read.

“I think that interactive voice response systems are maybe the most critical information technologies needed by the developing world.” – the good stuff just keeps on coming. Read it.

We need to be getting on airplanes and going out and finding people in countries which are poorly represented, who are already community leaders or interesting thinkers, and figuring out how to get them into the dialogue. But people who can blog well across cultural lines are rare. They need to be natural bridge-builders, to have one foot in each culture, to be bilingual or multilingual, but most of all, to be people who can understand enough about their own culture to make it understandable to people from outside of it.”

And check Ethan’s blog.


Here is the first instance of kindof anthropological blogging I’ve found: 73bus (from a larger project), although he she doesn’t use the blog as a repository for documentary information the way I imagine someone should. I guess I’ll have to do it myself.

Also, one block radius, a project of Brooklyn artists Christina Ray and Dave Mandl [known collaboratively as Glowlab], is an extensive psychogeographic survey of the block where New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art will build a new facility in late 2004. Engaging a variety of tools and media such as blogs, video documentation, maps, field recordings & interviews, Glowlab creates a multi-layered portrait of the block as it has never been seen before [and will never be seen again].

TP: On the sunny side of life?

TP: On the sunny side of life?: (a review of the conference). “In Sweden’s sun city, Karlstad, Internet researchers from some 30 countries surfed through the cultural specifics of the Web … The tricky causalities – the complex relationship between culture and technology.” The conference site.

Trying to salvage good stuff from this conference (the proceedings are kinda expensive):

Nina Wakeford (university of Surrey, UK) is director of the Incubator for Critical Inquiry into Technology and Ethnography (projects, blog) and did a keynote trying to answer the question “How can the next generation of research deal with experience which is ‘non-normative’ or ‘at the margins’ of ICT development?”.

I’m always conflicted about hardcore ethnographers/researchers. The language many of them use almost guarantees they only speak to themselves. At the same time, they have interesting things to say. Like this: “Early discussions of the internet betray a tendency to celebrate the taking on of other (usually non-normative) identities as a way of describing the capacity of a transformative technology.” Very true.

I’m digging in a bit in the Incite site and blog.