Saturday, April 30, 2011

Egyptian online activists talk about planning ahead of revolution

"Asked about the role of government in trying to block communication technologies, another organizer, Waleed Rasheed, said: 'I would like to thank Mubarak so much.... he disconnected mobile phones on Jan. 27. More people came down to the streets on the 28th of January because he disconnected.' By February 1, the protests had swelled to at least 1 million people, and Mubarak stepped down four days later."

This article also talks about a precursor to the actual revolution, the April 6th Movement. Egypt had a history before the revolution of growing protests, mostly around work and wages I think.  The April 6th movement began in 2008 and took lessons from the Otpor movement in Serbia that had succeeded there earlier. And of course, Otpor had learned from Gene Sharp.  And, to just keep this going, Sharp learned from Gandhi.

Hidden video cameras shape "the narrative" in Syria

"The government's old-fashioned effort to control the media coverage has been outflanked by a sassy opposition that has shaped what the PR experts would call 'the narrative.'"

Syrians with hidden video cameras and savvy methods for circumventing government censorship have managed to shape world opinion of the crackdown in Syria with direct evidence of the atrocities happening.  I don't know if this is some sophisticated organized journalistic group, or a spontaneous grassroots effort.  It at least gives the world a view of what is happening that would otherwise never be known.

Social Media helps Delaware

"After talking about social media at DSU, Grant showed its power by inviting his Twitter followers to meet us in Wilmington an hour later. About a dozen showed up to talk about their belief in the benefits of social media, including Laurie Bick. She says, 'The whole idea is to help each other, so if somebody knows of an opportunity, they use whatever means available to them- Twitter, Facebook, whatever- to get that opportunity to a person they know could make that connection. That's awesome.'"

This article talks about how businesses, government, and just regular folks can be helped with social media interaction.  Perhaps Delaware is the great test bed?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Aussie society helped by Internet

"The survey revealed two-thirds of us use the net at least once a day, with the same number comfortable downloading audio, video and image files. Researchers said contrary to expectations, the poll suggested our internet obsession is not creating a meaner, more individualistic society."

When the Internet started people predicted it would isolate people and turn them anti-social. The opposite has actually happened.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The short history of Anonymous as activist

"What we can note about Anonymous is that since the winter of 2008 it has become a political gateway for geeks (and others) to take action. Among other opportunities, Anonymous provides discrete micro-protest possibilities that aren't otherwise present in a way that allows individuals to be part of something greater. You don't have to fill out a form with your personal information, you aren't being asked to send money, you don't even have to even give your name but you do feel like you are actually part of something larger. The decision to engage in political action has to happen somehow, via a concrete path of action, a set of events, or influences; Anonymous is precisely that path for many."

This is a pretty good summary of both the history of Anonymous activism and their "structure."  Of importance here, it notes that "The uneasy relation between these two tendencies is partially resolved when anons constantly remind each other to refrain from behaving like a leader, and thus push participants to strive for consensus as the preferred mode of decision-making."

Monday, April 25, 2011

avaaz; linking activists worldwide

"Avaaz empowers millions of people from all walks of life to take action on pressing global, regional and national issues, from corruption and poverty to conflict and climate change. Our model of internet organising allows thousands of individual efforts, however small, to be rapidly combined into a powerful collective force."

Here's an article about them in the Guardian.

"While most of Avaaz's projects are initiated by the staff themselves, every few days they survey a random collection of 10,000 members to ask them which campaigns they want to prioritise. They also monitor constantly online statistics that reveal which campaigns are attracting most interest among members, enabling the membership itself to chose the network's focus."

How teens are using technology

A typical teen makes 50 text messages per day, and 1-5 phone calls per day.  Lots of interesting stuff here.  How will these teens use technology when they become adults?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Excellent video on collective action at work!

"Us Now" is an excellent film, with good resources (Clay Shirky, Don Tapscott, etc.) that gives many examples of collective action and much insight into what it can achieve.  If you want to see the future, watch this.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Syrian online activists

"Just like the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, the protests in Syria are a grassroots movement, with no real leaders but with a number of prominent activists who keep things going."

This article talks about some of the online activists in Syria and how they communicate information on a more national level, while locals organize their own protests.  Facebook played an important part in getting the protests going, but "but now Facebook is really just 1% of the movement," said one of the activists.

Again, there is no hierarchy, just people doing what they can locally or online.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Google embraces crowd sourcing, to a degree

"Users submit map edits which are then reviewed and posted by Google's own editorial staff. Google says the edits should appear within a few minutes of submission, and edits can be tracked in realtime in Google Earth."

So Google gets input from its users, which Google first reviews before putting online.  This I would assume is the best way, to avoid the trolls directing today's soccer fans into a canal instead of the stadium.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What if somebody doesn't like your plans?

Assign security agents to work “via Facebook” to “jam up” political opponents. In particular, it suggests that security agents using “pseudonyms” pose as political dissidents and then gather intelligence about the opposition as well as “slip in” messages that would tarnish the reputations of leading dissident figures. Opposition figures should also become the target of lawsuits designed to “smear their moral and religious reputations.”

* *

Wow, I guess the Syrian government doesn't like protests!  I have no advice, other than to look at what others have done, and think things through before starting any project.  It's sort of like, how do you handle trolls online? There seems to always be somebody willing to screw up somebody else's plan, so that has to be taken into consideration.  A few times at our protests, Scientology had infiltrated our group.  We found out about it and decided basically just to not worry about it. We weren't doing anything wrong, and they couldn't really find out much of anything that wasn't already public.  Plus we knew who they were so we could keep an eye on them.  But man, if your opponent plans to kill you?  That's way beyond my paygrade.

Here's a report on TOR and other software useful for anonymity online.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Internet of Elsewhere, new book

I read the introduction to this book here, which was fascinating.  Hopefully I'll get to read the whole book. It appears to mostly deal with how the internet is a battleground between those who want freedom of information and communication, and the Iranian government that wants to control both.

Psiphon; program when your country blocks access to outside web sites

when your nasty dictator blocks the Internet from your country, this site might help you access blocked sites. It's a bit different than TOR, and I don't know if one is better than the other, but there you go.

information technology helps economy grow

"The WEF [World Economic Forum] said ICT [information and communications technologies] was 'a key enabler of a more economically, environmentally and socially sustainable world.'"

Triple play!  "The WEF report focuses on the power of ICT to transform society in the next decade through modernisation and innovation."  And I believe another acronym, ICA, will have a good-sized role in there somewhere.  Maybe not economically as much as socially though. I still fear that ICA actually helps in decreasing the number of jobs, which somehow must be considered.  But socially it will be beneficial.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Syrian activists

"While their government learned lessons on censoring and spying on the internet from Tunisian authorities, say activists, their counterparts in Tunis and Cairo taught the youth how to get around the cyber police.

'We use a proxy server and change it almost every day,' explains the activist. 'Today most young Syrians have mobile phones with high quality cameras so each one has become like a journalist. I upload videos and statements from internet cafes. I leave after 10 minutes and don't come back to the same one for a long time.'"

   This article shows a few things. The people working together are in several different countries - the U.S., Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere.  This shows that the Internet makes geography much less important for collective action.  Also, as the quote above shows, it demonstrates the necessity to have protected communication.  For people under an oppressive government, this must be done by the individual through hiding their identity and location.  Finally, it shows that collective action has structure.  There is one person acting in this case as a clearing house or master communicator, one person collecting information, one person broadcasting that information.  Structure, however, does not require hierarchy.  In this case there may be hierarchy but I can't tell from the article.

   This could be a classic example of ICA; a loose-knit group of people deciding to work together on a simple project (disseminating information about Syrian protests), using the Internet to communicate and distribute. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

don't get blinded by the possibilities

'It is tempting to think of the Internet as unprecedented in its potential
for political progress. History, however, cautions against such hubris. In
the fifteenth century, the printing press revolutionized the accumulation
and dissemination of information, enabling the Renaissance, the Protestant
Reformation, and the scientific revolution. On these foundations,
modern democracy emerged. But the printing press also facilitated the rise
of the centralized state and prompted the movement toward censorship.3
A century and a half ago, the telegraph was hailed as a tool to promote
peace and understanding. Suddenly, the world shrank; news that once
took weeks to travel across the world could be conveyed instantly. What
followed was not peace and freedom but the bloodiest century in human
history. Today’s enthusiasts of liberation technology could be accused of
committing the analytic sins of their Victorian forebears, “technological
utopianism” and “chronocentricity”—that is, “the egotism that one’s own
generation is poised on the very cusp of history.”4
In the end, technology is merely a tool, open to both noble and nefarious

I tend to get all gushy about the possibilities of ICA.  It's a hazard of being absorbed in one subject that you tend to put more applicability and positive spin on that subject than it might warrant. So the above is a good reminder that ICA is a tool.  Whether it works or not depends on how well it is used, who is using it, and the situation surrounding its use. 

That said,  I still believe that ICA is a tool that should be studied and considered for what good uses can be made of it. Also, any pitfalls should be discovered so people don't have to make mistakes with this tool.  I hope to help with the discussion with this blog.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ushahidi used in Egyptian revolution, now in Libya

"Technology is a great enabler for communication, collaboration and coordination, allowing groups to mobilize and share information. It can also empower disadvantaged groups helping give citizens a voice, whether thats those affected by the Japan tsunami or protestors in Egypt. It shouldn’t however overshadow the importance of real human networks. As Patrick Meier and Clay Shirky have both expressed, ensuring that citizens have a means to organize, is as important as ensuring citizens have access to information. As a global community, we need to be concerned with censorship on the internet, or the ability for governments to block its capabilities."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Can a strong enough opposition prevent ICA?

"One popular method of outsmarting the protesters, according to the accounts of multiple eyewitnesses, was to send teams of plain-clothed young security men to the sites of planned protests. These agents would initiate anti-government chants, luring in youths who were waiting nearby for the demonstration to start. Once a small group formed, the unwitting protesters would be led down the street to a trap of police officers."

Yemen's government has worked aggressively to stifle any protest organizing using phones or the Internet.  They seem to have succeeded.  I remember in Somalia when the US was trying to catch a rebel there, he stopped using phones and relied on runners instead to carry his messages.

This case actually demonstrates to me how useful ICA is.  If it's stopped, that makes organizing much harder to do.
* * *

"Zero hour, as announced by protest organizers, was to be 2 pm. The stated plan was to demonstrate in front of the Interior Ministry and then disband at 5 pm. Security forces therefore sealed off all the vital downtown streets leading to and from the Ministry, allowing pedestrians to pass only after checking ID cards. But it was a ruse. On the morning of January 25, organizers used cell phones and landlines to disseminate the real locations of the protests and the actual start time: noon. “The protest locations announced on Facebook and to the press were the major landmarks. The idea was to start marching down small side streets and pick up people along the way, so that by the time demonstrators reached the announced locations, they would be large crowds that security couldn’t corral,” explained organizer al-‘Ulaymi."

So there's a counter example where the protesters used ICA to FAKE OUT the government counter punch.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A photographer's view of the Egyptian Revolution

"The concept of being self-organized and leaderless made the revolution a success. That was the aspect that fascinated me most. These anonymous people in the photographs—they are the ones who are so important. I may never see them again. I may never know who they were. But they’re the ones who made the revolution happen. I could have picked virtually anyone out of the square and each one of them would have been incredibly and equally as important."

I think the Egyptian revolution was a great example of ICA.  It was nonhierarchical, organized mostly online, chaotic, and when it was done, it was time to move on to the next phase.

Diaspora: open source social networking program

Diaspora's beta is out now, but the first official version is scheduled to be out in October.

A comment on TechCrunch might clear up what Diaspora will be: "The point here is choice. Diaspora,, Cliqset and Google Buzz are the first of what will be a large number social services focused on federated social communication and interoperability. We want users to be able to select a service that's right for *them* without worrying about sacrificing connectivity to their friends, family and colleagues on other services."

This, I predict, is the wave of the future. Commercial social networking like facebook will gradually be replaced by open source networks that can interact with each other. You can find a "home" on the network that fits you best and still be connected to friends on other networks. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

communities in cyberspace; the view 12 years ago

"When the late Peter Kollock and I published Communities in Cyberspace with Routledge in 1999 there were few broadband connections, no iPhones, and little WiFi.  Today, there is an ebook version of the book and Amazon sells a version for the Kindle, a device it was hard to even imagine when the book was written.  Google lets you browse most of it and search all of it.  But the key ideas of the volume:  identity, interaction, collective action and emergent order remain relevant in a wireless broadband netbook mobile social network real-time web world. "

It's useful to look back and see how ICA and its beginnings were viewed in the early stages of research into the subject.  I haven't read this book yet (unfortunately, I'm only able to read one book at a time).  One thing I do see is this:

“Identity plays a key role in virtual communities. In communication, which is the primary activity, knowing the identity of those with whom you communicate is essential for understanding and evaluating an interaction. Yet in the disembodied world of the virtual community, identity is also ambiguous. Many of the basic cues about personality and social role we are accustomed to in the physical world are absent. The goal of this paper is to understand how identity is established in an online community and to examine the effects of identity deception and the conditions that give rise to it.”

Is identity really all that important? There are people I regularly interact with on IRC that I still don't know much about. Is this person male or female?  Where do they live?  I've found that those things don't really matter in many interactions online.  I know the person's position on our general topic. I know how informed he or she is. I know that he or she is bright and has useful insight into our discussions. Do I really need to establish an exact identity of this person?  For me, no.  What matters to me is, is this person reliable?  Informed?  Contributes to the discussion?  Most other things don't matter.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Volunteer Technology Communities; new use for ICA?

"During 2010, a new form of volunteer emerged from the background: the humanitarian technologist. These experts—who are most often technical professionals with deep expertise in geographic information systems, database management, social media, and/or online campaigns—applied their skills to some of the hardest elements of the disaster risk management process."

Volunteers with skills useful to a problem work together in an essentially nonhierarchical format to accomplish goals that were previously difficult to do.  These actions help the traditional structured organizations do their jobs better.  Now for the new challenge: "It is here—in the politics and tempo of this new volunteer capability—that the bottom-up, grassroots structures need protocols to work with the top-down systems within large organizations."  How do you get the nonorganized to work well with the organized?  I don't think that should be much of a problem so long as the Volunteer Technology Communities just accept a task and accomplish it, without the organized group interfering with how that is done.  The organized group (say, the Red Cross), may fear the chaos of the nonorganized, but that should not be a concern at all.  The results, if satisfactory, should be all that matters.  Don't fear chaos.