Thursday, June 22, 2006

Chinese Checkers

Speaking of research projects, this week Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times reported on his own efforts to test Chinese Internet surveillance mechanisms to find proof for his optimistic theory that distributed networks can always outwit an authoritarian state.

"In China, It's ******* vs. Netizens" describes how Kristof adopted an edgy blogger persona and posted a number of entries that asked hard questions with forbidden keywords about imprisoned blogger "Zhao Yan," "President Hu Jintao," "Falun Gong," and "Tiananmen Square," seemingly without any interference from the state. Apparently some of the outlawed phrases were replaced by asterisks, and Kristof's two incendiary blogs were pulled down by censors by the time I looked for them today, but he did seem to have a point about the inefficiencies of the monitoring efforts of the People's Republic, especially given the number of nodes in cyberspace and its enormous discursive scale.

It was interesting that one factor that Kristof didn't mention was the fact that American companies are still providing technology that allows the Chinese authorities to police political dissidents. I suppose it says something about the quality of private sector government contractors from the states.

Kristof's article also dramatized the fact that the days of the English-only World Wide Web are long gone. Like Kristof, all Internet researchers should to be able to read and write more than one language in order to provide context for their findings. (At least that is what I tell myself as I do my Japanese homework this summer.)

As Red Herring points out in "Net's Future: Beyond English" even the Internet's ruling body ICANN is becoming more polyglot in its governance, so that soon "control of the network might not stay in the hands of its English-speaking creators." Numerically, the percentage of web pages in languages other than English has finally increased, after years of hovering at around 28%. Nonetheless, some critics still complain that computer architectures favor English commands and user interfaces privilege English fonts.



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