The CSS Blog Network

Twitter, Revisited

Twitter bird illustration, photo and illustration: Matt Hamm/ flickr

Twitter bird illustration, photo and illustration: Matt Hamm/ flickr

With constant overcapacity problems, seemingly incurable slowness and a cyber-environment filled with spammers of all shapes and sizes, it seems almost surprising to me that the whole Twitter thing has gained any fraction at all. But it has, and particularly in the wake of the Moldovan and Iranian protests the buzz about so-called ‘Twitter revolutions’ reached astronomically unreasonable proportions.

Foreign Policy has laid out the good, the bad and the ugly of Twitter for us in two excellent pieces. One takes a closer look at Twitter– where it matters and where it falls short of often inflated expectations; the other lays out the ‘Twitterati’ of the micro-blogosphrere– the one hundred best Twitter users in the international affairs field.

Worth a read and an eye-opener for those of us who thought that tweets could save the world.

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Amend the Constitution from Your Living Room

Screenshot: http://constituicao.wikispaces.com/

Screenshot: http://constituicao.wikispaces.com/

While the Web is upgrading to version 3.0, e-governance seems to be trapped in an eternal beta phase. A seemingly simple step like using electronic voting stations is still considered a great success wherever applied. But even more common are decisions to simply leave elections analog and offline.

But if you cannot bring the government to the people, you might bring the people to the government. An interesting initiative to bring governance and online technology together was launched in Portugal in July. The Institute for Portuguese Democracy (IDP), a Lisbon-based political, nonpartisan think tank has opened a website that allows users to use a wiki to draft the country’s constitution as easy as an article on Wikipedia.
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Serendipity Should be Less of a Concern

Serendipitous encounters / Photo: Hartwig HKD, flickr

Serendipitous encounters / Photo: Hartwig HKD, flickr

Those among you who are interested in the origin of words may already know the etymology of “serendipity.” The word is based on an ancient tale called “The Three Princes of Serendip” and describes an accidental and fortunate discovery of something unexpected.

Serendipitous discoveries take place because of how things are ordered and because of the search tools and practices we employ. At the ISN we are also concerned with the order of things. We classify our content by using about 3000 keywords on international relations and security. With this concern in mind, on Wednesday in our weekly editorial meeting we discussed a recent NY Times article by Damon Darlin on the loss of serendipity in the digital age. According to Darlin, because of the internet tools in place today we have “lost the fortunate discovery of something we never knew we wanted to find.”

So we wondered: Does indexing information really remove the element of surprise?

I believe this is not the case. Indexed information in any encyclopedia is a beautiful opportunity for serendipity. To support my argument I will cite Jorge Luis Borges, who, in his “Investigation of the Word” (in Selected Non-Fictions) talks about the “alphabetical disorder” of dictionaries. What a beautiful opportunity of finding words with very different meanings next to each other just because they share the same initial letters!

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Democracy Through the Looking Glass

Looking for direction / Photo: World Economic Forum, flickr

Looking for direction / Photo: World Economic Forum, flickr

This week marks the 10th anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s ascension to power. The collapse of the Soviet block in the late 1980s and the Soviet Union itself in the early 1990s can be seen as an inflection point, a moment at which the arc of Russian history changed; it opened up an old wound in the Russian psyche, namely, that of identity. With the loss of its satellites and formerly appropriated republics, a political, institutional, economic and moral decay took hold.  Russia’s need for reinvention became an existential threat and opportunity at the same time.

With Russian foreign policy practically non-existent in the early 1990s, the climactic evidence of which was NATO’s utter disregard for Russia’s position on the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo, the soil was moist for a mushrooming ‘man of action,’ who would later use precisely this justification to advance his ambitions of restoring great power status to Russia.
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ISN Weekly Theme: Energy Security

A deserted road, an unprotected oil pipeline / Photo: toniluca, flickr

A deserted road, an unprotected pipeline / Photo: toniluca, flickr

This week we take a look at some of the myriad meanings of energy security in an age of dwindling resources, increasing demand, exposed infrastructure and the resulting opportunities for exploitation:

  • The Center for Security Studies’ Jennifer Giroux and Anna Michalkova discuss how violent non-state actors target vulnerable oil and gas supplies to leverage their political and criminal agenda;  Chatham House’s Alex Vines examines the militancy threat against energy infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa; and ETH Zurich graduate student and former ISN intern Carolin Hilpert offers some solutions to this security dilemma in Energy Infrastructure Exposed the latest ISN Special Report.
  • ISN Publications features a CEPS working paper, Long Term Energy Security Risks for Europe, which uses a sector-specific approach to examine existing and potential EU energy supply risks.
  • ISN Primary Resources highlights a July 2008 G8 declaration on energy security and climate change.
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