Friday, July 31, 2009

The Fugitive

In "Hacker’s Extradition to U.S. More Likely," the New York Times explains that British citizen Gary McKinnon is losing his three-year fight to avoid trial in the United States for hacking into military computers. McKinnon has responded that he did little damage, that much of the most sensitive data wasn't even password protected, and that he was only looking for evidence of UFO landings and research on free clean energy sources. Rockers Chrissie Hynde and Bob Geldorf have been taking McKinnon's side and are promoting a musical anthem to prevent what they see as a miscarriage of justice. The tune, "Chicago - Change the World," will soon be released. Meanwhile you can check out McKinnon's own song on YouTube.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Summer Book Club

Government websites have posted a number of summer reading lists in order to promulgate the literacy practices of the American citizenry, but none may be more bizarre than this invitation from the CIA to "pass those lazy days of summer" with its official "Catch Up on Some Reading" suggestions. "Intelligence Literature" may not be your idea of beach reading, but it is interesting to see the agency promoting its own publications on the list.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Earth Eclipse

As the Obama administration creates dozens of new .gov domains that are divorced from the operations of specific government agencies with physical addresses, designated personnel, and plans for sustainability, it can be useful to think about .gov domains that are no longer maintained, despite similar fanfare at their launch. For example, Vice President Al Gore once hailed the future value of the geographical resources for citizens at, which in the age of Google Earth have long ago been supplanted. Nonetheless, those in the mood for e-government nostalgia can check out Gore's 1998 speech about the initiative, and the evolution of the site from 2000 to 2006 on the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive.

(Thanks to Alex Tarr for the link!)

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Blot on Your Record

In today's New York Times, an article called "Has Wikipedia Created a Rorschach Cheat Sheet?" asks if the popular collectively authored online encyclopedia may be giving away the trade secrets of psychologists and psychiatrists and thus risk contaminating test results that are supposed to measure authentic impulses and unrehearsed associations. This anxiety about releasing trade secrets to the public is actually not particularly new: at the time of Diderot's encyclopedia members of guilds fretted that generations of professional knowledge and years of training in the apprenticeship system might be threatened by the publication's detailed diagrams of equipment and descriptions of specialized practices.

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The Enemy Within, a new HIV awareness campaign being launched by the County of Los Angeles aims to use social computing to raise public willingness to participate in testing. Although testing for a sexually-transmitted disease is generally associated with privacy, the campaign touts its Facebook page as a place to see photos of an event. Their Twitter feed, however, shows a lack of familiarity with the rhetorical conventions around microblogging since it just reads like a series of press release headings. Given the use of the "Is It in You?" slogan by the Gatorade company and the poor technical and artistic quality of the content on their YouTube channel, along with the fact that their supposedly cutting-edge Flash animation on their site is limited to rollovers, it seems the this press release overstated the comprehensiveness of their online campaign.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

New Car Smell
is the website for the so-called "cash for clunkers" program that urges owners of gas guzzlers to trade in their cars for new models with better mileage. Yet the site's pitch for monetary incentives that can top four thousand dollars doesn't draw on the persuasive appeals of a standard government website. First off, the visual rhetoric does little to call up the conventional red, white, and blue associated with the patriotic colors of a government website. Second, although the type indicates that the user has arrived at an "official government site," the cascading style sheets chosen look more like the template for a small business. also little resembles a noncommercial site, despite its government domain status. Note the prominent placement of stock photographs of the glossy exteriors of brand-name cars rather than the MPG charts and other information design strategies for comparison that conservation-minded consumers might expect.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Public Turn

Although I include it among my professional associations, I haven't always felt welcome at the Association of Internet Researchers, given their predilection for the social sciences and for papers that deliver a methods section rather than accepting organizational strategies for arguments driven by interpretive reflection and a desire for rhetorical interventions.

But this year's program for their annual conference already seems to display what I would call a "public turn" in the organization and perhaps in Internet studies more generally. Check out this year's offerings in Milwaukee, which include substantive panels on governance, health policy, ICTs, and political organizing. In the past, the focus has been on ethnographic studies of individual communities of practice, but this year it looks like the policy wonks have been made more than welcome.

Of course, choosing VP pal Siva Vaidhyanathan may have signaled this public turn months ago, but it is nice to see this engagement with institutions and policies will also be represented in smaller sessions. This week at the NEH Institute on Broadening the Digital Humanities I talked about how the nature of the public has changed with social computing and object-oriented ideologies and pointed to books like Networked Publics and Making Things Public as proof.

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For Those Who Flu Across the British Isles

As the British government tries to contain the current outbreak of swine flu, they are encouraging citizens to take part in an interactive website that allows potential patients to assess their symptoms and even arrange to pick up anti-viral drugs that the automated system deems necessary. More than a mere chatbot, the official Flu Survey from the government also offers a number of interesting information graphics, which include maps of potential areas of infection and graphs of patterns of infection. Of course, with the rules of the system this easy to deduce, it wouldn't take much for unscrupulous Britons to lie on the online forms in order to get medication that wasn't needed for stockpiling purposes, but health officials apparently think the risk of an escalating pandemic is far greater.

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Cover Stories

Joystick Soldiers: The Politics of Play in Military Video Games is now available for order from Routledge. I have an article about military game development at the Institute for Creative Technologies, and Ian Bogost wrote the introduction.

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But How Did He Get That Knife Through the Metal Detector?

In this video California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger thanks followers of his Twitter feed for supposedly offering useful suggestions for cutting the state budget. Yet, given the governor's web team and his attachment to Hollywood-style one-to-many forms of communication, I'm skeptical about how much real crowd-sourcing was involved.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Players

After VP friend Chris Soghoian pointed out the problems in having the White House use YouTube to post speeches for citizens to watch, particularly since viewers may be unaware of the ways this commercial site compromises their privacy, staffers from the Chief Executive experimented with a number of other online video players for a short time.

But then it seemed that the webmasters for the Obama administration returned to their corporate software standby, YouTube, for several months.

However, with today's press conference on healthcare, it looks like the White House is trying out YouTube alternatives that allow for the Creative Commons license, this time with a player from BlipTV.

Update: Since posting this story on Virtualpolitik the interface for the online video has been changed to a YouTube player. (See below.) Plus ça change . . .

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I hate to see Disney trademarked characters appear on the kids' pages for government websites, given that the Disney corporation has been at war with the concept of the public domain for decades, as the company supports draconic legislation that may preserve for perpetuity their lucrative copyrights on their fairy tale material -- much of which ironically originated in folktales that were appropriated for free.

First the Department of Homeland Security plugged the Muppets, which have been licensed by the Disney corporation for many years. Now the webpage for gives the company more free advertising at taxpayer expense, as those at the Energy department use Tinkerbell as a spokesperson for energy conservation in the home.

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Ear Ye! Ear Ye!

Today I was on the radio show of political activist and historian Jon Wiener, where I talked about the Virtualpolitik book. You can listen to a podcast of the show here.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Arrested for Robbing from Himself

There is a Facebook dimension to what seems to be the racially motivated arrest of noted African-American scholar Henry Louis Gates despite the fact that he produced identification to law enforcement officers to show that he was, in fact, breaking into his own house because the lock was jammed.

As Gates himself notes, in an interview with The Root, he took Facebook messages as an important sign of support after his ordeal. This is particularly interesting, since Gates has a relatively modest number of friends indicated on his Facebook profile despite the fact that he is a public figure. Perhaps he was referring to fans of pages started in his honor by others, which have garnered much larger measures of affiliation. It could be argued that Gates mentions the Facebook site, because it has become a marker of social acceptance and legitimation, particularly in academic communities.

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Forgotten Man on the Street

In "Homeless advocate brings his message to the masses through social media" from the Los Angeles Times, there are a number of rhetorical issues raised by what seems to be citizen journalism focused on the plight of the homeless by Mark Horvath, whom the paper calls with obvious irony a "darling of social media." For starters, there are the barrages of plugs for sponsorship from blogger Horvath and the fact that what he offers is hardly in-depth reportage, as the following sample passage shows.

At first I didn’t get Whrrl and broadcast some feedback over twitter. Yikes, be careful whenever you do that, ya just may get a response! Whrrl listens and immediately engaged me into conversation. I was a little shocked and to be honest standoffish. Lots of brands talk about listening, but from my experience it is still very rare. Plus, I didn’t want to come across as this weirdo “homeless guy” complainer.

Horvath doesn't quite use the royal "we," but his appropriation of the language of branding and rhetorics of market research might not do much for his status as a would-be journalist. He's not the first one to use social media to document the experiences of transients, since there have been a number of blogger-transients, but his use of Twitter and cell phone cameras seems to be attracting public attention.

But the newspaper also doesn't come off well either, since it mistakes the name of at least one Los Angeles institution, the Union Rescue Mission, and it provides little analysis of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which is given credit in the story. (For those interested in information aesthetics, note the fact that the NAEH provides a map of the problem of its own.)

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Moon River

The website for We Choose the Moon dramatizes the lunar landing that first took place forty years ago with 3-D animation that can be oriented from several perspectives and a representation of the crackling audio feed from the communicative channel of sound. On the linked Twitter feeds for the Apollo 11 Spacecraft and Houston Control, space enthusiasts can re-experience the exchanges between the space ship and engineers on the ground in a recreation of the real-time discussion between NASA participants.

As institutional rhetoric, it is interesting to note the ties between this project and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum. In contrast, Flash user communities may be attracted to the site only because it was recognized by an industry standard, the FWA: Favourite Website Awards.

At the same time, sites from commercial sources such as this "three-camera" website from Louis Vuitton present the testimony of witnesses from various NASA projects, such as Sally Ride, Jim Lovell, and even Buzz Aldrin himself with the imprimatur of a luxury brand.

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Government Work

It is interesting to note a new category on the photo-sharing site Flickr: "government work." It's a choice that suggests certain forms of authority and proprietary interest that is very different from the term "public domain," which appears on other digital files on the site. (See above for how the term is used on the White House Flickr stream. Click to enlarge.) In contrast, the Library of Congress's Flickr site suggests that many of their images have "no known copyright restrictions," although they don't go so far as to make public domain claims, even for images created over a hundred years ago by government employees. The Flickr stream for the State Department is still using the Creative Commons license, although it is likely that they will soon follow the White House lead.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

If Life Gives You Tomatoes . . . has been encouraging its adherents to take part in The Great AIG Tomato Toss, where they can lob virtual versions of a splattery fruit and/or vegetable at the portals of the corporate insurance giant that has received multiple bail-outs from the taxpayers. Much like the many shoe-throwing online games that appeared after the shoes were hurled at George W. Bush by an enraged Iraqi journalist, this game encourages political opponents to vent their outrage harmlessly. I've written about the forms of political satire sanctioned by what I call the Internet's "theatres of cruelty" in the Virtualpolitik book. Such an ineffectual form of political resistance may give citizens some of the satisfactions of pseudo-interactivity, but without even a virtual inbox these games seem to have little hope of influencing policy.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Getting Construed Over Again

When my Facebook friend Peter M. Shane first pleaded with the Obama administration to "Keep Signing Statements Rare," I was surprised at the revelation that the new president was engaging in this practice, given his background as a professor of Constitutional Law and his public pronouncements in support of the balance of powers. During the Bush administration, these statements were tucked out of sight on the White House website, and it took familiarity with the peculiar verbiage of Executive Branch legalese to find them using the site's search engine. As I explain in "Word Search," the word "construe" could be used to flag the Bush signing statements, which were otherwise not locatable in a single location.

Imagine my horror when I performed the same search with the same keyword on the White House website, and I discovered that this same procedure worked in the Obama administration as well, although it doesn't pick up the first of the signing statements that Shane draws his readers' attention to. (See above. Click to enlarge.) Now notice how a search for the word "signing statement" wouldn't bring up anything at all for a concerned citizen, as if signing statements continued to not be a genre of presidential rhetoric. (See below. Click to enlarge.)

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Loyal Following of One

In working on how the Obama administration uses online social network sites for a new project that updates the Virtualpolitik book, my latest find has been Social Government, a website that gives advice to policy makers about best practices for using Facebook and best practices for using Twitter when it comes to a government agency. It also points readers to GovTwit, a Twitter directory to follow the activities of both federal and state agencies, as well as the Twitter feeds of government agencies abroad. Although the writer seems to have let the blog and Twitter feed for the site largely, I thought this analysis of the genre of online chat under the Bush administration merited more reading attention.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Turning Cranks and Spinning Wheels

This afternoon I visited the current exhibit called Identity: an Exhibition of You at the California Science Center. As someone who first encountered the museum exhibitions of information representation pioneers Charles and Ray Eames at the old science museum on the same site, I am particularly attentive to how viewer interaction in the museum space is staged by their successors. I was struck by the fact that the exhibition wanted to limit interaction with a keyboard, even when it would be the input device that a viewer would naturally associate with the computer display monitor that was attached to the interface. In one case, in a module about serotonin and stress, the visitor was encouraged to turn a metal crank to stimulate elevated workplace pressure for time on task; in another, a metal wheel was supposed to cue the film of a gestating fetus.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Catching the Second Wave

Today was the first meeting of Broadening the Digital Humanities: The Vectors-IML NEH Summer Institute on Multimodal Scholarship, which included a number of nuts-and-bolts issues about scholarship with and of computational media, such as the situation that Holly Willis asked about in her introduction: "How do you cite a game sequence?" Willis also noted the applicability of the work of my UC Irvine colleague Paul Dourish to understand the "crystallization of institutional power" that can become operational when universities stake claims to virtual real estate, such as islands in Second Life, or to mobile networks that are arrayed in material geography. She provided an overview of current projects at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy, where the Vectors group would be meeting for a month, and explained how they were adding K-12 initiatives both locally and in New Mexico.

Tara McPherson then encouraged the 11 Vectors fellows to introduce themselves and to offer some reflections about the "digital humanities" and their relationship to the term. A number of people around the table pointed out that they were technically "digital social scientists," but except for a discussion later in the day about human subjects protocols, the disciplinary differences were not strongly marked during our introductory session. Before lunch, everything from Ruben & Lullaby, an iPhone love story that can fit in one's pocket, to "Yadoo - Making American Culture," which still exists largely in a future in which the 554 boxes in the archive are brought back to life online. I even made a contribution to California's Living New Deal Project, as it was being explained by one of the presenters, since I recently noticed the WPA mural by Stanton Macdonald-Wright that had been restored at my local library.

After Cheryl Ball introduced herself through her role as an editor at Kairos, to whom the Vectors journal served as what she called a kind of "evil twin," Katherine Hayles argued that there was a complicated politics that had to be negotiated now that "second-wave digital humanities," which exploits the capacities of multimedia computing for scholarly projects, was making people from the "first wave" of enthusiasts for text-encoding projects and digital archives "upset." As someone affiliated with an information science/information studies program, Hayles shared my concern that the digital humanities continued to be engaged with theoretically as well as practically with computer science, as did McPherson who described her recent work on the history of object-oriented programming and how those "particular code structures" could also offer a reading of "race and representation after World War II."

During the day, participants weren't just Twittering, they were also using BackNoise to provide another channel for commentary to help people find the work of Erik Loyer, the Digital Durham Project, David Shorter’s Cuardeno, and the book site for Micki McGee. It was more like a series of guideposts than the snarky backchannel that one might have expected it to be. So it was the Twitter feed that probably captured some of the best lines of the day, as the different contingents from those planning to incorporate online digital video to those thinking about mapping and information representation tried to answer McPherson's question about "How might we visualize theory?" As McPherson narrated the second-wave/first-wave distinction, she argued for the importance of "interactive and visual experiences" in digital scholarship as second wavers wanted to engage with the "surface of screen." She also asserted that since about 2004 , the two communities started to see interaction as possible, and the lessons learned by "old school humanities computing folks" who developed archival resources with rigid standards and strong principles of interoperability informed the back-end practices of those who were focusing on aesthetics, media practices, and interactivities. If Hayles was pointing out how the humanities needs an understanding of computing, McPherson reminded her audience that "computing needs the humanities" too, particularly in the case of an intellectual movement like object-oriented programming that propagated "the separation of cause and effect" without seeing any ideological implications from that design philosophy.

There was also a lot of talk about failure, one of my favorite subjects, since I'm turning my attention to failed digital learning initiatives in my new book projects and made it the subtitle of my first. I plan to be following up on the work of Bethany Nowviskie and Dot Porter who are surveying stakeholders about what they call "graceful degradation" for the many digital humanities projects that go dark. This mindfulness about hubris and embrace of a philosophy of versioning would also be important given the structure of this summer institute, in which participants would probably only reach the draft stage working with fellow scholars and the team of designers.

It was also interesting to hear McPherson discuss a new Mellon grant with Brown, UCSD, NYU, and Rochester that also brings together four archives, eight scholars, and three university presses -- MIT, University of California, and Duke -- participating from raw digital materials to finished online publication. She also explained how the differences in both scale and philosophies of openness were already beginning to play out for the four archives: Critical Commons, the Internet Archive, the Shoah Foundation, and the Hemispheric Institute. She also noted that the Mellon's preference for open source tools created not only intellectual property conflicts for USC's lawyers but also more inquiry into the ways that Google's algorithms can still weight results from explicitly open source projects like TextMap.

Steve Anderson
spoke next, as a number of people got out their cameras to document the ironic formulae in his slides, which showed a series of supposedly inverse relationships between text and images, content and design, and design and technology. Instead Anderson argued that that Vectors represented an integrated model of "research," "design," and "technology," with no master lens. He argued that there could be a "dissolution of the binaries of front-end and back-end" with the "database as authoring space" model in which an emphasis solely on "information presentation" has become a deeper engagement with questions about "information architecture," so that scholars can explore and interpret "evocative knowledge objects." To introduce the idea of "dynamic indexing," which the journal promotes, the group was shown Springgraph and FreeMind to foster cognitive activities that promote thinking and mapping in presentation tools to "map out idea structures," with an interface that is much more flexible than PowerPoint and other commonly used presentation tools in academia. Anderson warned against mere "clever refiguring" and showed Ted Nelson's 1963 illustration of "ordinary hypertext" as a reminder of how vaccuous even certain ways of hypertextual linking could be.

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Beat It

In "Donation Fail: How Los Angeles Screwed Itself with Michael Jackson’s Donation Website," blogger Rebecca Kelley explains all the logistical and rhetorical mistakes that the City of Los Angeles made in its attempts to use a donation page on its official website to urge members of the public to help defray the public safety costs associated with the singer's memorial service at the Staples Center. Among the many mistakes that the city's webmasters made were the crashed servers from the unexpected web traffic to their government site. Kelley also points out the web design errors that were compounded with their garish and cluttered home page.

Now it appears that the mayor's staffers may have made an even bigger blunder than was initially apparent now the the mayor himself is scolding his underlings for the website and claiming that they acted without his blessing while he was out of town.

(It's also hard to miss the fact that Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is borrowing many of the signature design elements of President Obama's web presence.)

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Remover of Obstacles

Today I went to a celebration of the Hindu god Ganesh at the Pacific Asia Art Museum, which involved a mix of traditional instruments and laptop computers. At one point a poem from a member of the group in Germany was read to the audience via YouTube. The associated exhibition of photographs encouraged visitors to the museum to go to the website for Discovering Ganesh, which combines a number of competing rhetorics: promoting tourism, spurring humanitarian aid to a developing country, and proselytizing for one of the world's major religions.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

From Ghana to the Metaverse

As CBS news reported in "The Obama White House's First Try At Second Life," the U.S. president, who is visiting Ghana, spoke to live audiences in the virtual worlds of Second Life and Metaplace. Unlike his visits to Second Life as a candidate, however, according to the news agency, he will not be embodied as a 3-D computer generated avatar.

(Thanks to Bernhard Drax for the image!)

Buying a Car Should be Like Amazon Not eBay

As GM emerged from bankruptcy yesterday, the event was trumpeted on company websites, such as GM Facts and Fiction (above) and GM Reinvention (below).

Of course, one of the areas that the company is not reinventing is the bricks and mortar dealership model, which has had a long history of discriminatory pricing against women and people of color that -- as a taxpayer who helped fund bailout initiatives for the GM corporation -- I am less than enthusiastic about seeing endure, particularly at a time when Internet shopping for everything from real estate to jewelry to international travel has transformed existing economic models.

The main issue for me is pricing. Yes, no virtual reality simulator can ever take the place of a test drive, but those buildings full of bullying salesmen don't need to be maintained at their present sizes. Speaking to NPR, GM executive Bob Lutz elaborated upon what he saw as the corporation's online options.

GM has been testing a program of selling autos online on eBay in California. Some have asked whether this is a new paradigm that will rely less on traditional dealerships.

"All of these online experiments will purely be for the customer to make her pre-selection of the car — and ultimately that vehicle will still be delivered by a dealer," Lutz says. "There is no model which can legally permit automobile companies to sell directly to the customer."

The Internet doesn't permit the full range of a sale, he says, especially that ability to allow a dealer to see a used car that a customer may want to trade in.

Across the world, he says, "the franchised individual automotive independent retailer is the way to go; it's the model that works best."

Lutz even ridiculed other options by saying "every 10 or 15 years some genius invents a system that's gonna eliminate car dealers."

Speaking as a consumer, I would much rather see transparent and fair pricing instead of the e-Bay model. As a conservative consumer, the thrill of possibility getting a steal isn't worth the risk of being gouged with elevated impulse buying, and the hope is clearly that auctions will jack up prices rather than have efficient targeting marketing lower them, as the Amazon paradigm would have it.

Part of why I've been a driver of a Honda Accord for the past twenty years is that I hate participating in this masculinist gamesmanship. I'll test drive it and then get out of the dealership as quickly as possible, and then I'll leave my middle-aged white male husband to negotiate a cheaper price than I ever could. I resent subsidizing an industry that profits on discrimination and deception and would rather see fair pricing at work.

According to the New York Times, eBay is denying that there is an partnership with GM. You can't blame them for not wanting to be associated with a failed brand.

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Street Cred

I live within walking distance of a local tourist magnet, Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade. At night the street fills up with street performers: jugglers, break dancers, balloon twisters, musical child prodigies, sidewalk preachers, and other temporary stars. Last night, among the acordionists and bucket drummers, I noticed the presence of those with digital projectors, who were using the hardware for persuasive purposes. For example, an animal rights group was showing a film that showed treatment of domestic pigs, and a creationist had a PowerPoint presentation cued up.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Who Wants to Be a Thousandaire?

As the budget page for the University of California Office of the President is overwhelmed with web traffic today, some are going directly to President Yudof's YouTube channel to see his latest video in which he explains his furlough/salary reduction proposal. (The chart he refers to is here.)

Many of the points addressed in his video seemed to be in response to widely circulated open letters that were disseminated via e-mail and web pages, such as the ones at UC Faculty and Administrators Comment on the Budget Crisis and the militant budget FAQ page for the UC branch of the American Federation of Teachers. A number of these statements have involved information graphics, as this piece on "Changing the Budget Climate: What Happens if We Don't" does as well from the Remaking the University blog.

What's interesting to me rhetorically is the fact that this video allows embedding, so it can be posted on blogs, social network profiles, and other websites, unlike an earlier video about budget bad news, for which embedding was disabled. Like other videos on the UC YouTube site, comments have been disabled, although viewers can still rate Yudof's videos with one to five stars. In this video Yudof also is more obviously reading from a script, and so therefore he is using his hands less to punctuate his dire assessment of the budget situation. In both videos he uses a backdrop of family photographs, although unlike other faculty talking heads on camera in their offices, the book in the background about California does not appear to be one of his own publications.

More on Yudof's earlier YouTube performance is here.

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In April of this year, the Los Angeles Times began to notice problems with the interactive online version of the official crime map put out by the LAPD. First, there was an item called "Highest crime rate in L.A.? No, just an LAPD map glitch" in the newspaper, and this month they pointed out that "LAPD's public database omits nearly 40% of this year's crimes."

The police chief has blamed the vendor and praised the newspaper in his public announcement, although "Bratton says LAPD's crime map will stay online."

LightRay Productions is one of the companies involved in the snafu. Yet it still boasts of its effectiveness creating crime maps for other cities, like Dalton, Georgia and West Vancouver on its company blog. The other vendor who has been named, PSOMAS, seems to be adopting a lower profile, although it does have a portfolio of very different kinds of mapping projects here.

Bratton drew a clear distinction between the public map, which he continued to describe as one of the best in the United States, and the internal CompStat reports used to evaluate trends and guide deployment, which he insisted are of the highest integrity.

The Times discovered the magnitude of the problem while developing its own online map to display LAPD data. While the department's official crime tally recorded more than 52,000 serious crimes from Jan. 1 through June 13 of this year, the public mapping site contained fewer than 33,000 for the same period.

As the Los Angeles Times emphasizes its own Internet mapping efforts in an attempt to improve flagging readership numbers, after several years of disastrous attempts at "interactive content," it is interesting to see how they are situated in the story.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Popular is as Popular Does

Of late, several critics have noted how blogs are often now being used to announce scholarly findings that in previous years would have been publicized first in scholarly journal articles. For example, recently Internet researcher Eszter Hargittai posted a piece in Crooked Timber "Popularity of Facebook and MySpace changes, but SES differences in use persist" that updated work about ethnic and class differences in populations using different social network sites. Although Facebook has grown in popularity than MySpace in the two years since, her latest work shows that her findings about first year college students continue to be similar to what she found before: that Facebook is more socioeconomically privileged in its membership than MySpace, and that Latino/Latina students are still more likely to gravitate to MySpace than their Angle white peers.

Perhaps mindful of the criticism that danah boyd faced after she posted "Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace" to describe phenomena that she was noticing among high school students, Hargittai has also very scrupulously presented all her data in the form of tables and bar graphs so that readers might have less cause to doubt her claims.

What does this mean for rhetoricians? A lot. It means that choosing to use either Facebook or MySpace as a platform for speech has particular consequences both in how the speaker is perceived and what expectations she or he has about the audience being addressed. For example, how is the White House MySpace page different from its Facebook page?

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Whole World Is Watching

Last month, images out of Iran that showed street violence and clashes between political groups and police and protesters were praised by advocates for Internet freedom who were captivated by the possibility of a revolution that would finally bring about a Western-style democracy in the theocratic country that has been a longtime opponent of the U.S.

But as Randy Cohen of The Ethicist points out in "The Power of Pictures," encouraging the dissemination of some kinds of graphic images on the Internet while censuring others can make President Obama appear hypocritical, particularly when he praises images of "Neda" dying on YouTube while opposing the release of pictures showing detainee abuse of those held in U.S. custody.

Certainly, although there was some outcry about this story of an online video of a woman being flogged in Pakistan, it's harder to raise objections when the violence shows the shortcomings of the government of a political ally. In the case of our major economic trade partner, China, events described in the Telegraph's story, "China riots: Twitter and YouTube frustrate 'censorship attempts,'" can be more difficult for the U.S. to manage through conventional diplomatic channels, although -- according to the New York Times -- "In Latest Upheaval, China Applies New Strategies to Control Flow of Information."

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Unlucky Breaks

Travel is an area in which social media that use distributed networks can quickly broadcast consumer discontent with a company or agency. For example, in the Virtualpolitik book, I wrote about how multiple rich media or RSS-enabled sites on the Internet are used to express dissatisfaction with TSA passenger screening procedures. Airline horror stories can also be rapidly disseminated online, and even various memes involving the film Snakes on a Plane could be seen as part of the collective online mockery of norms involving air travel.

Now, according to "Smashed guitar, YouTube song — United is listening now" on a travel blog for the Los Angeles Times, the band Sons of Maxwell is combining free publicity for their music with anti-corporate revenge by releasing a YouTube video called "United Breaks Guitars," after baggage carriers for the airline damaged some of their musical instruments during a tour.

(Thanks to Brook Haley for the link!)

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Who Gives a Truck?

One of the striking aspects of painful childhood memories is the fact that they often concern relatively trivial matters rather than the real tragedies of life. For example, I still feel a pang in my heart when I remember the circus marionette that broke off when I dangled it out the car window and how it was dashed to pieces in freeway traffic. And I still feel guilty about not giving a prized crossword puzzle book to the girl in the next hospital bed because I rationalized that her brain tumor would prevent her from solving the puzzles on its pages. And I still feel a profound feeling of alienation and abandonment when I think about ice cream trucks and their unpredictable courses.

I grew up in the hills over Pasadena miles away from local commerce, parks, and clusters of residential kids. Most of our neighbors when I was growing up were retired couples or middle-aged gay Republicans, and so ice cream trucks never ventured up the windy roads to come to our street. One day, however, a single disoriented truck did accidentally show up in our neighborhood. I was so excited to see this symbol of suburban normalcy that I begged the driver to stay parked while I ran to get money. By the time I came back, the truck was gone. I spent hours chasing the sound of what I thought was the echo of the truck's tinkling tune in search of it.

Last week, while walking in my neighborhood, I came upon an equally amazing truck. It was a truck for Calbi BBQ, a company that specializes in combining two of my favorite Los Angeles cuisines: Korean food and Mexican food. Customers can enjoy tacos, burritos, and quesadillas made with Korean-style beef, kimchi, and tofu. Again, by the time that I returned with my wallet, the magical truck was gone. It turned out, however, that the truck had a website, where Calbi BBQ enthusiasts could find out where the GPS coordinates of the truck could be tracked on an interactive Google map or one could look for information on the company's blog or Twitter feed.

It turns out that the Calbi truck actually has an older, more famous mobile cousin: the Kogi Truck, which according to an NPR story, "Tweeting Food Truck Draws L.A.'s Hungry Crowds," also uses ubiquitous computing technologies. In addition to the Kogi tribute on YouTube above, you can also check out their Flickr stream and Twitter feed.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Lives of Others

One of the remarkable things about Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg's The Future of Learning Institutions in the Digital Age is its willingness to tackle the "mythology of technology that its virtues, vitality, and values are 'free'" (5). In a time in which "institution" can seem a dirty word, they repeat the importance of "institutional support" several times and emphasize the fact that digital learning requires labor, capital, material resources, and organizational structures aimed at sustainability. Unlike manifestos that reject institutional frameworks, the authors remind readers that "our traditional institutions" in higher education are notable for their "endurance and stability." However, Davidson and Goldberg describes how the book also served as a novel "writing exercise" that challenged conventional academic publishing norms, like many of the projects at the Institute for the Future of the Book, because it was vetted through a process of online comments facilitated by the Commentpress digital toolset. I found myself very sympathetic to the mix of innovation and pragmatism that the pedagogical philosophy of this book represents.

Nonetheless, after a rapid and enthusiastic reading The Future of Learning Institutions in the Digital Age, I was left with two possible criticisms.

First, although this book claims that its "primary focus is higher education," it was remarkably light on specifics. Given the tendency of philanthropic institutions only to fund K-12 initiatives that focus on what I have described as the "exoticism of the young," I was looking forward to a monograph that addressed the culture of college campuses, where academic scholarship and new social computing practices have had a particularly contentious relationship. I will confess that some of this attention to the subject on my part is also self-interested. My new book project, Early Adopters: The Instructional Technology Movement and the Myth of the Digital Generation, focuses on the higher education scenarios that I began writing about in conjunction with a talk at Berkeley's Center for Studies in Higher Education, when I first wrote about how knowledge paradigms and information paradigms differ. Furthermore, I've promised to write about local experiments with "interdisciplinary pedagogy" in which Southern California as a site for "regional advantage, to use AnnaLee Saxenian's term, for the upcoming DAC conference. Unfortunately, their "Portfolio of Virtual Learning Institutions: Models, Experiments, and Examples to Learn and Build On" contained almost no examples of work done for college credit. The Gamelab Institute of Play, Quest to Learn, the New York City Museum School, and the School of the Future in Philadelphia.

Second, I found myself thinking about the "others" mentioned in a passage about the transformation of "modes of organization, structures of knowledge, and the relationships between and among groups of students, faculty, and others across campus or around the world" (14). I noticed that these "others" were largely constituted as off-campus others, who might be "strangers" who could "remain anonymous" (16) as they participate in life-long learning, contribute to wikis, serve as audiences for faculty blogs, and enter into symbiotic information-exchange relationships with those on campus remotely. Yet one of the challenges to digital learning in higher education is precisely the fact that these "others" are often not far away. They are librarians, instructional technology specialists, and other members of non-tenure-track academic underclasses, who contribute much to initiatives for digital learning but are further marginalized by existing reward systems. Among friends and colleagues in the region, this last group includes book authors, bloggers, and editors who have influenced my own work.

As Clark Kerr once said, the university really is a "multiversity." It's easy for bomb-throwing guest columnists like Mark C. Taylor to say that we should "End the University as We Know It" by terminating tenure and dissolving departments. What's harder to determine is how digital culture can make campuses both better environments for learning and more just workplaces for those who never received the privileges that Taylor wants to end.

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Who Doesn't Love Virtual Currency?

As the creditors of the State of California begin to receive IOU documents rather than checks, because the fiscal year has begun without a resolution to the budget crisis in the legislature, online speculators are seeking to buy up the notes promising future payment in hopes of cashing in on interest, despite the fact that the state's credit rating has dropped to BBB status.

According to "Wanted on Craigslist: California IOUs," people posting to the megasite for online want ads are looking for the state's registered warrants. Given the scope of transactions for other kinds of virtual items on the site, including game currency and inventory items for everything from World of Warcraft to Mafia Wars, this emergent economy is hardly surprising.


A Wee Kirk O' The Heather

A Vision of Britain Through Time offers several slices of the political, social, and aesthetic landscapes of particular regions of the country. Visitors to the site can chose a location and then search for census data, historical maps, or text from centuries of travel writing to get a richer image of the local area.

Thanks to Robert Folkenflik for the link.

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July Surprise

I've written about the "Downfall meme" before here and here. Already there is a version that commemorates the resignation of Alaska governor Sarah Palin over the Fourth of July Weekend.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Ready or Not, Here Digital Publishing Comes

I've been thinking about the reflections of two Facebook friends, who have been writing about the relationship between scholarship and the Internet and the fact that the practices of digital publishing are already here among people who read and write books about computational culture, with or without the participation of academic presses.

In "Anderson's Wiki-versy," Siva Vaidhyanathan writes about the borrowings of Wired editor Chris Anderson to create parts of Free: The Future of a Radical Price, which were revealed on a blog for the Virginia Quarterly Review. Vaidhyanathan is less concerned about what he calls another "moral panic" about textual poaching than he is about the fact that mainstream books that are cited by academics are becoming even less likely to contain notes as publishers embrace models that cut costs and appeal to the greatest common denominator in the reading public.

Ian Bogost takes a different approach in "Digital Objects: Speculative Realism and Digital Media," where he argues that it is the blog rather than the wiki that characterizes the main mode of thoughtful writing practice today. Bogost explains how philosopher Graham Harman takes part in lively philosophical exchanges online and how Google books and also serve as a kind of citation index to see who else out there might also be involved in the scholarly conversation.

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The Tweetest Memories of Her

Librarians are discussing the recent announcement on the Library of Congress's Twitter feed that all the tweets that reference Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor will be collected for posterity, as part of their mission to record the Zeitgeist around her public confirmation hearing. The ABA Journal noted the necessary succinctness of the message, and The Hill's Twitter Room placed the LOC's decision in the context of the widespread adoption of Twitter by legislators in a remarkably short time.

Based on having interviewed archivists at the Library of Congress, I've expressed concern in the past about the scope of the web capture program, given that much social computing involves rich media files rather than plain text and services that make content much harder to scrape. As a text feed, Twitter raises far fewer technical problems, but these kinds of publicity events may also feed into the company's increasingly high-profile attempts to monetize their unsustainable business model through a quick sale to a software giant by getting free advertising for the service from the news media covering fast-breaking stories.

(Thanks to Sean Lawson for the link!)

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If Countries Were Computers

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Reboot Britain campaign is its use of figurative language to represent a nation as a computational device. One could also "scan Britain's system," "defrag Britain's memory," and "consolidate Britain's files." I wouldn't want anyone to "limit Britain's users," however.

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Maybe Facebook is the New Poison Umbrella Tip

Reader Michael Thomas points out a great story in the Daily Mail,
"MI6 chief blows his cover as wife's Facebook account reveals family holidays, showbiz friends and links to David Irving," which suggests that the status-checking location-mapping culture of social network sites can wreak havoc with the security culture around officials in clandestine government services. With the new default privacy settings on Facebook set to favor disclosure to all in one's network, the mistake made by the spouse of the head of Britain's intelligence service is certainly understandable.

Amazingly, she had put virtually no privacy protection on her account, making it visible to any of the site's 200million users who chose to be in the open-access 'London' network - regardless of where in the world they actually were.

There are fears that the hugely embarrassing blunder may have compromised the safety of Sir John's family and friends.

Lady Shelley Sawers' extraordinary lapse exposed the couple's friendships with senior diplomats and well-known actors, including Moir Leslie, who plays a leading character in The Archers. And it revealed that the intelligence chief's brother-in-law - who holidayed with him last month - is an associate of the controversial Right-wing historian David Irving.

Immediately after The Mail on Sunday alerted the Foreign Office to the astonishing misjudgment, all trace of the material – which could potentially be useful to hostile foreign powers or terrorists - was removed from the internet.

For more about the official web presence of Britain's intelligence services, you can check out this Virtualpolitik entry about MI-5 and MI-6. And for more about how Facebook is set no longer to be a "walled garden," go here.

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Getting Out of Dodge

As the Washington Post explains in "Sarah Palin's July 4th Message Posted to Her Facebook Account," the recently resigned governor of Alaska is using her notes on the popular social network site as a way to communicate with her base while she is out of the public spotlight.

It's interesting to see how the tone of her latest message moves from a meek request for the reader's indulgence to a complaint about the liberal media and blogosphere that she sees as persecutors, including the online wags who Photoshopped her family to appear like demons from hell.

If I may, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the last 24 hours and share my thoughts with you.

First, I want to thank you for your support and hard work on the values we share. Those values led me to the decision my family and I made. Yesterday, my family and I announced a decision that is in Alaska’s best interest and it always feels good to do what is right. We have accomplished more during this one term than most governors do in two – and I am proud of the great team that helped to build these wonderful successes. Energy independence and national security, fiscal restraint, smaller government, and local control have been my priorities and will remain my priorities.

For months now, I have consulted with friends and family, and with the Lieutenant Governor, about what is best for our wonderful state. I even made a few administrative changes over that course in time in preparation for yesterday. We have accomplished so much and there’s much more to do, but my family and I determined after prayerful consideration that sacrificing my title helps Alaska most. And once I decided not to run for re-election, my decision was that much easier – I’ve never been one to waste time or resources. Those who know me know this is the right decision and obvious decision at that, including Senator John McCain. I thank him for his kind, insightful comments.

The response in the main stream media has been most predictable, ironic, and as always, detached from the lives of ordinary Americans who are sick of the “politics of personal destruction”. How sad that Washington and the media will never understand; it’s about country. And though it's honorable for countless others to leave their positions for a higher calling and without finishing a term, of course we know by now, for some reason a different standard applies for the decisions I make. But every American understands what it takes to make a decision because it’s right for all, including your family.

She's also using Facebook to promote her political action group, SarahPAC, where she is soliciting funds for another national run.

What's also amazing about Palin's Facebook page is the lack of moderation and the brawling style of multiple voices engaged in polymorphous flame wars about religion, sex, money, and everything else associated with her campaign for vice president.

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Michael Jackson vs. The Internet

The chaotic web-based system that encouraged over a million fans to compete for several thousand tickets to Michael Jackson's memorial service in the Staples Center in Los Angeles has already received a lot of negative press, as the cash-strapped city tries to figure out how to handle would-be lookie-loos, and fans are encountering tiered forms of participation in the singer's legacy. (As though the strain on the very Internet created by Jackson's demise weren't enough to drive former listeners away from their keyboards.)

Meanwhile is soliciting online memories from fans. Although viewers are encouraged to flag offensive postings as inappropriate, there are still a number of computer users who are advertising pornography or suggesting that the pop star should go to hell.

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Mass Frames

This rock video uses the mechanism of the web cam to create an effect much like stadium fans making large-scale displays by holding up cards on cue. In the era of mass games from North Korea and spectacular Olympics from China, it is interesting to see a Japanese band using their distributed fan base to create these kinds of pixelated images at the scale of the computer screen.

(Thanks to Allen Glazier for the link.)

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When Flowers and Candy Just Won't Do

The short digital film World Builder Bruce Banit also contains some creepy implications about how both doctors and male lovers shape the world for passive, unconscious patients, so it was interesting to see it linked to the main web page for Cyber Therapy 2009. Lately, I've been thinking a lot about rhetorics of empowerment and disempowerment when it comes to medical applications for virtual worlds technologies by looking at individual case studies in which Second Life is used for support groups, counseling referrals, and patient advocacy organizations. I would argue that the virtue of the virtual has more to do with collective knowledge networking than it does to individual cave experiences and that health is about conscious sociality.

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Friday, July 03, 2009

Tuning In, Turning On, and Dropping Knowledge

This video explains the work of Dropping Knowledge, a group that solicits provocative questions from its international audience and then poses them to its "table of knowledge," which includes celebrities like director Wim Wenders and actor Willem Dafoe.

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Pay to Play

Mike Allen of broke a major story about his former employer, The Washington Post, this week after a health care lobbyist shared an incriminating flier that showed that the prestigious newspaper had included on their invitation to an "intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon" during an "off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth" a promise to provide "a collegial evening, with Obama administration officials, Congress members, business leaders, advocacy leaders and other select minds" for $25,000 each or $250,000 for all 11 planned "salons." Now Politico is reporting that the embarrassed publisher has canceled its plans for the dubious influence-peddling pitched for the event. They were too late, however, to forestall the inevitable YouTube parody of the event.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

If a Classroom Falls in a Forest

An article in today's New York Times, "Facing Deficits, Some States Cut Summer School," portrays a grim picture of how many school districts are cutting summer school programs despite federal monies designed to keep the K-12 educational system running for full-year sessions.

I am on the advisory board of SOS Classroom, which attempts to ameliorate the crisis. You can also follow their Twitter feed to learn about how they offer tools for tagging and organizing free educational content on the web that addresses state content standards.

When Summer School was canceled for LAUSD in the summer of 2009, there was an outpouring of concern for students in the country’s largest school district.

At the same time, we realized that the Internet was making available an unprecedented number of free educational resources. They just needed to be collected in one place.

Our goal is to collect and organize the very best of these resources by enlisting the help of educators, parents, and students online. We offer these resources as a life preserver to students who might otherwise spend their summers sinking.

The students of Mark Marino at USC hope that they have reached critical mass and that parents and educators will soon be active content-creators to the site.

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