Patrice Riemens on Thu, 16 Apr 2009 15:46:28 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Ippolita Collective: The Dark Side of Google (Chapter 7, part 3)

NB this book and translation are published under Creative Commons
license 2.0 (Attribution, Non Commercial, Share Alike).
Commercial distribution requires the authorisation of the copyright
holders: Ippolita Collective and Feltrinelli Editore, Milano (.it)

Ippolita Collective

The Dark Side of Google (continued)

Chapter 7 Technocracy (part 3)

Escape routes: independent media, cryptography, blogs, FoaF ...

The blog phenomenon [*N5] - websites exposing the personal views of their
authors, the links they chose, and the comments of their readers [cf
however Geert Lovink's 'Zero Comment' ;-) -TR] - has given rise to what is
now commonly called the blogosphere. Estimates today [i.e.  2007 -TR] run
to around 60 million blogs, with 4 billion links and 1.3 million postings a
day. The blogosphere expands at the rate of 1 lakh [see chapter 1] per day,
and doubles in size every 6-7 months [*N6].

Mathematically speaking, blogs behave according to Darwin's law and present
the distribution characteristics of a 'long tail' market: a few hundred
blogs amass a considerable amount of links (with 4000 of them making out
the blog's 'Who's Who'), but most of them - millions actually - have very
few of them. In this sense, as we saw already in chapter 2, blogs are part
of the same economic set-up as (re)search.  A blog enables one to share her
declared, individual, and subjective viewpoint without any filter; the
number of links to a blog is witness to its popularity and hence measure of
its authority, which can equate or even surpass that of dailies and other
traditional media as far as influence on public opinion is concerned.
Credibility, trust and reputation are only related to the blog's
importance: as a particular blog's popularity grows, it becomes difficult
for it to go astray without being immediately strafed - which means not be
linked anymore and thus to vanish quickly from memory [*N7].

The authority commanded by Beppe Grillo's blog, the only Italian amongst
the world's 100 most popular blogs as expressed in the number of links, is
greater than that of the blogs of La Repubblica or Corriere della Sera [the
2 major Italian daily papers -TR]. The personage Beppe Grillo writes in an
idiosyncratic vein, and does not claim to sell the truth: he simply tells
from his point of view. In a certain sense, blogs create self-managed
sharing spaces; sometimes they even become the sole sources of
{independent} information amidst the 'normalised' {mass media}. This was
for instance the case of Iraqi blogger Salam Pax (aka Salam al-Janabi)
during the second Gulf War [*N8].

The greatest novelty blogs bought to {the spread of} information is the
automatic bundling together of different sources through RSS feed, which
has become the de facto standard of exporting content on the Web. In short,
RSS is an automated method to rapidly switch from one web site to another,
and to find and export contents that are of interest /to us/. The
popularity of blogs is probably the main reason why RSS is so successful:
thousands of weblogs are producing RSS contents, so that one sees a
profusion of sites, called blogs aggregators, which offer a selection from
the most-read blogs, and also of programmes that enable one to access any
blog directly/on one's machine/.  This makes it possible to search for
contents in the blogosphere without going through Google.

The fact that it has become possible to automatically receive on an
individual's computer the latest stuff that has been written on subjects of
greatest interest to this user is an innovations that is clearly bound to
have enormous consequences for the way the Web is being used. Or put more
generally, we see here the first step of a development whereby it becomes
possible to have any data at hand in a format that is easy to share,
transform and expand. RSS hence makes an information accessible on all
digital supports indifferent whether it is a site, a programme installed on
a machine, a mobile phone, or what ever kind of technological device.

There are however many other ways to go looking after information. Whereas
Google presents itself as a public and objective tool, [*N9],
for instance, profiles itself as a "collectively run media outlets for the
creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of the truth". Hence
the group of people who make out Indymedia act in accordance with a very
specific kind of public [publication?] policy: in the right hand column,
the so-called newswire, everyone is free to publish. Nothing gets censored,
even though 
"the posts that are clearly 'racist, sexist of fascist' are being hidden,
"but not deleted". Indymedia therefore, is a service that spawns 
{a kind of} users who are active in creating information and which
contributes to {the emergence of} shared knowledge and truths. The
authority that 'creates' such truths is decentralised and participative, it
is also an ethical {sort of} authority ({because it is} a collective {of
human individuals}), and not a 'mathematical authority' (i.e. an

To question official sources by showing that it is possible to produce
credible information in a decentralised and independent fashion is one of
the aims of, and of scores of other networks which have
emerged around specific issues {of interest} [*N10]

Now, should informations be made public, or is it better to keep them
private? An interesting answer {to this question} comes from the project [*N11], a decentralised P2P network, initiated in order
to thwart censorship, and which makes use of the resources of its users
(bandwidth, hard disk storage) in order to make available any type of
information. Freenet was built with anonymity and security in mind, rather
than transmission speed. The government or other bodies that censor
information all have one characteristic in common: they employ censors who
decide which information to let pass or to suppress, and what is offensive
and what is not. Freenet is a network that allows nobody the right to
impose its own scale of values: nobody is able to {effectively} decide what
is acceptable or not, and technology serves the purpose of unlimited
freedom of expression.

When using non anonymous network, if we want our information to reach only
pre-established recipients, strong crypto[graphy] is the way to go -
actually {using crypto) is a basic rule if a minimum of confidentiality is
to obtain in digital communication. Because they are not traceable by
search tools, encrypted mails will not show up in query returns [French
text: are not readable] [*N12]. Cryptography enables to use networks in a
subjective and filtered manner, creating private exchange spaces on the
users side, but also public spaces that are indexable and open for use by
anybody. What is important is not so much to be able to hide something, but
to preserve private spaces and to be empowered to decide in an autonomous
and independent manner what we want to make public, and how and when.

An other option is to make everything public, or even better, /to decide/
to make public a completely subjective take on oneself, which also makes it
'liable to be searched and read'. A virtual identity ({or} a digital clone
{if you like}) can be defined with a great economy of details without it
being left to the mercy of profiling techniques {French unclear - maybe the
idea is that a minimally defined virtual persona will not yield very much
in terms of profiling?]. Probably the most interesting idea at the moment
is the 'FoaF' community, or 'friend-of-a-friend' [*N13]. This project aims
at creating a set of machine readable web pages describing individuals,
their field of interest, what they are doing {in life}, and what their
mutual relationships are [*N14]. This way, the concept of 'trust' takes
precedence over that of 'truth': I tend to trust friends of my friends by
engaging in 'networks of trust' which are based on shared affinities,
tastes and passions. FoaF is a way to create social networks, by promoting
an active involvement: {to join a FoaF network} one must 'come out',
describe oneself, and make oneself 'public' [*N15].

Seen from out 'trusting networks' [support of the Web Trust (?)], FoaF may
be a guarantee of transparency with regard to the itineraries of our
virtual avatars, by fostering more credibility and trust in interpersonal
relationship that {found their origin and} were developed on the Web. The
web {then} is being used to create spaces in which people are connected
together in a big relational map, which one can criss-cross starting from
whichever node, and without the need to go through a centralised searching

It is even possible to use a formula like FoaF for explicitly political
aims: the Indyvoter network, for instance, presents itself as "a social
networking website for political activists", and has as stated objective
the bringing about of an alternative form of government [*N16].

Oppositions like nature vs. culture, objective vs. subjective, true vs.
false turn out to be poor {tools for real understanding}.  Information
technology is by definition dual and hybrid in character: it is theoretical
and practical at the same time, it creates objects which alter our way of
thinking, and the use of these objects in its turn modifies the
(information) technology itself. The digital domain is very real, and in
reality, our black-and-white opinions make room for grey tints, and for an
endless variety of colors, for all shades of opinion, for the differences
which turn out to be an enrichment, for the heterogeneity which cannot be
reduced to one single format.  The means to alter, extend and multiply
these spaces of freedom are there at our disposal: their potentialities can
only be curtailed by our lack of depth and of imagination.


(to be continued)

Translated by Patrice Riemens
This translation project is supported and facilitated by:

The Center for Internet and Society, Bangalore
The Tactical Technology Collective, Bangalore Office
Visthar, Dodda Gubbi post, Kothanyur-Bangalore (till March 31st, 2009)
The Meyberg-Acosta Household, Pune (April 2-11, 2009)
The Bawa-Jonnalagadda Household, Bangalore (from April 12, 2009)

----- End forwarded message -----


Patrice J.H. Riemens
Case Postale 10.644
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(French is the official language of the International Postal union, you

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"Je ne suis d'aucune faction et je les combattrai toutes"

                                    Louis Antonin Leonce SAINT JUST 

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