Web 2.0 and F/LOSS

Ubuntu 10: Worth the wait

Just a quick note: Ubuntu 10 totally rocks. Better digital video and audio support (via HDMI and toslink) than Windows 7, slicker than Mac OSX with a great dock and productivity-enhancer with gnome-do/docky, tons of crazy user interface enhancements, a smooth 3D desktop... the list goes on. It's amazing, and it's open source.

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Behind the Wire: How To build your own news portal

ServiceWire Logo

ServiceWire.org is a refreshed version of a news system that's been part of YSA's servenet.org toolset for years. In fact, when servenet.org was launch in the mid-nineties (1996 in fact) its motto was "Our Content in Youth Info" - a few years ahead of its time in terms of "Web 2.0" concepts or peer-generated content.

In late 2008 I decided it was time to bring ServiceWire up to date with current technologies. It still got a smattering of news and press release submissions from the field, but it was no longer the source of news and knowledge about what was happening in the service movement.

At its heart, ServiceWire is very simple - it takes content from the service field and collects it all in one place, making it easy to follow, comment on, and explore trends.

Read on to learn all about how it works, how you can take greater advantage of it, and how you can make your own version of it!

Social Networks (including Facebook) and Technology Transfer

In Social Networks (not Facebook) and Development I covered the relevance of local social networks and social capital / trust for successful, long-term community and economic development.

Finding, engaging an empowering local social networks is the first step. I believe connecting these networks to the global communities of interest and practice on the Internet can provide a multiplier effect.

In the recent Technology Salon on Malawian health ICT systems, it was discussed how hiring recent Malawian college grads and connecting them to the global community of open source coders gave them an immense resource to draw on as they began their work; and they were soon contributing as peers and mentors to other programmers around the world.

That's power, and that's the 21st century version of technology transfer.

Beyond Crowdsourcing

I am weary of the term "crowdsourcing." Now, I'm not against the concept. I think small, bite-sized acts of service and kindness can make huge differences in the right situations. Indeed, it's the social-benefits business model of The Extraordinaries, and is at the core of what Yochai Benkler means when he discusses the power of "peer production" in The Wealth of Networks:

People began to apply behaviors they practice in their living rooms or in the elevator — "Here, let me lend you a hand," or "What did you think of last night’s speech?" — to production problems that had, throughout the twentieth century, been solved on the model of Ford and General Motors. The rise of peer production is neither mysterious nor fickle when viewed through this lens. It is as rational and efficient given the objectives and material conditions of information production at the turn of the twenty-first century as the assembly line was for the conditions at the turn of the twentieth.

But the term "crowdsourcing" itself is outdated. It presumes that there's some central organization doing the sourcing (paralleling "outsourcing"), and it seems to get applied in all sorts of roles where that's not relevant.

The answer for "I don't get Twitter" Jon Tue, 06/16/2009 - 08:46

The next time somebody cracks wise about Twitter, points to the vast numbers of Twitter Orphan Accounts, or otherwise belittles it, I will point them to this Twitter Blog posting:

A critical network upgrade must be performed to ensure continued operation of Twitter. In coordination with Twitter, our network host had planned this upgrade for tonight. However, our network partners at NTT America recognize the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran. Tonight's planned maintenance has been rescheduled to tomorrow between 2-3p PST (1:30a in Iran).

As much as I fear what happens after the honeymoon with SMS and social media under repressive governments, currently they provide an amazing tool for immediate news even during crisis, citizen voice and discussion.

Update: The State Department is now involved; http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2009/06/16/state-department-to-twitter-keep-… :

By necessity, the US is staying hands off of the election drama playing out in Iran, and officials say they are not providing messages to Iranians or “quarterbacking” the disputed election process.

But they do want to make sure the technology is able to play its sorely-needed role in the crisis, which is why the State Department is advising social networking sites to make sure their networks stay up and running for Iranians to use them and helping them stay ahead of anyone who would try to shut them down.

XP on the XO, round three. Jon Thu, 05/28/2009 - 11:20

Who's using XP?

With a surprising lack of fanfare, OLPCNews recently revealed that Sugar is beating out Windows XP in XO deployments:

Apparently the conversations are going pretty much as many of us had expected: Initially country representatives inquire if Windows XP runs on the XO laptop. That doesn't really come as a surprise - for many people Windows is the definition of a computer. However, upon further investigation every country decided to stick to Sugar.

It's hardly a surprise, based on the wretched state of XP on the XO for educational purposes.

The surprising part is that after thousands of people screaming (including myself) about XP on the XO, the news that everyone is choosing Sugar went almost unnoticed.

This is a very good, if somewhat Pyrrhic, victory - there was a lot of time and effort lost to get XP to run, and a lot of bad blood created.

Long-term, however, the fact that head-to-head, Sugar is winning installations after review by education ministries is fantastic:

-It's an important mindshare victory for open source, especially at the operating system level (on the computing side) and at the ministry-decision-makers level on the policy side. This win will put downstream decisions on software on a more level playing field (hopefully?)

Update on Guatemala, Twitter arrests, and citizen media

As always, Ethan Zuckerman brings together all the threads surrounding the Guatemala protests, including information about the arrested Twitter user and some "trending topics" muckraking:

http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/2009/05/14/the-assasinated-lawyer-th…

I ran a little tool I developed a few weeks back to check the frequency with which phrases and hashtags appear on Twitter. #escandalogt isn’t hugely frequent, registering at 0.052% - compared to #swineflu, for instance, which was running at over 2% at the height of hype/hysteria. What’s interesting is that #escandalogt is about as frequent as several of the tags listed on Twitter’s “Trending Topics”, getting more use than #fixreplies, #GoogleFail and #theoffice, all currently featured on the right sidebar. It’ll be interesting to see whether #escandalogt emerges there… or whether this is a sign that those topics aren’t entirely algorithmically generated and some human curation is involved.

Twittering about a Revolution

There's been a lot of noise about the role of Twitter in the recent Moldova protests. Ethan Zuckerman took it on himself to quantify the data. It's not as glamorous as blindly claiming that twitter did (or did not) ignite the protests based on some stories, but it does provide a good sanity-check:

My bitter, cynical hope had been to demonstrate that the conversation switched from a small Romanian-language conversation about the actual protest events to a self-congratulation festival in the English-language twittersphere. Good thing we’ve got data to prove me wrong. [...] I’d expected to see “twitter” emerge as one of the most popular terms by Wednesday or Thursday, and to see the conversation shift into English. [...] But by Thursday, Twitter’s out of the top 20 entirely and “comunistii” ranks behind Moldova and Chisinau. So yes, the conversation on Wednesday - the busiest day with over 1,000 authors - included lots of non-Moldovans. But the conversation quickly shifted back to the political standoff.

That being said, there are under 200 reported actual twitter users inside Moldova; so while the conversation avoided turning into the twitter version of back-patting, it also is not the twitter flash-mob we're looking for.

Worse, governments are getting more sophisticated in limiting the utility of mobile phones for this kind of disruption, as Evgeny Morozov at ForeignPolicy reminds us:

I've just spoken to a Moldovan friend who is himself a big technology fan; according to him, there is little to none cellphone coverage in the square itself (turning off cellphone coverage in protest areas is a trick that was also used by the Belarusian authorities to diffuse 2006 protests in Minsk's central square), so protesters have to leave it to post updates to Twitter via GPRS technology on their mobiles.

It seems likely that next time around, the government will also make sure GPRS is hobbled as well, and there were reports that the government was strong-arming local ISPs into restricting outside connections.

So while Twitter was involved, it seems too early to claim it's victory, as both Evgeny Morozov and Ethan Zuckerman seem to agree on. There was no sign-in form at the protest with a "Where did you hear about this? ( ) Twitter ( ) Facebook ( ) SMS (non-twitter) ( ) Friend ... " so we can't really be sure of the impact of any one social utility over another (though we could do some interesting things with Facebook photo tagging perhaps?), and this will continue to haunt any attempts to link online social media movements with offline action.

That's not the only story here, though. While I'm excited about turning online interaction into offline action, I strongly believe that the lower-hanging fruit in social media sites is real-time, mass reporting of events. You may get a thousand different viewpoints, but you're guaranteed to not just get one filtered and sanitized report. As Evgeny Morozov notes;

There are also a few moving English-language Twitter posts like this - "in #pman a grenade thrown by the police has torn apart one of the protester's leg"- that would surely be perused by foreign journalists.

We saw the role of SMS and Twitter in getting the news out about the Mumbai bombings in November 2008. As microblogging sites get increasingly sophisticated (or their users settle on hashtags and location update formats) I think we can expect to see fast local news coming not from traditional media but from our peers. Without editorial oversight or research/verification, we'll have to rely on mass numbers of twitterers reporting on each event to present an evenhanded view, but overall I see this move towards instant sharing of information as an amazing development that will only getbetter and more interesting, both in the case of free speech and media, and for mobile possibilities for development.

Cory Doctorow, or how I learned to start worrying and hate IP regulation

Sometimes, I lie awake at night and worry about copyright. I then start worrying if this makes me irreconcilably weird.

I worry both for our American culture, as items have stopped falling into the public domain and becoming available to re-use and re-mix, or simply to re-present for free. If this doesn't seem like a problem, this video on a 6-second drumbeat will blow your mind - especially if you then read this story about an artist being sued for a 1 minute clip of silence making fun of John Cage's 4'33" of silence. The artist ended up settling out of court.

I worry more generally about international trade and development, as we inflict ever-tighter IP regulations on countries we give aid to or trade with - regulations which we scoffed and flouted during our own development.

We're no longer protecting innovation with these laws - we're protecting the first movers (often big, established businesses), and encouraging gaming the patent system to try and get the most generic and sweeping patent accepted.

Let's get together and mesh alright (One Laptop in Jamaica)

OLPC and F/LOSS enthusiast Dr. Sameer Verma, an Associate Professor of Information Systems at San Francisco State University has been beating the XO drum in Jamaica with this presentation to the University of the West Indies/Mona (UWI) and at the ICT4DJamaica conference (with great photos) last September.

You probably already know Sameer from either his role as organizer of SF-OLPC or his OLPCNews guest entry earlier this year, OLPC Jamaica, and the beginnings of a pilot project in August Town, a community near UWI, a stone's throw away from where I lived while in Jamaica.