International Relations Social Media Technology Internet

Social Media Misers

The usual suspects according to ONI / Screenshot: OpenNet Initiative
The usual suspects according to ONI / Screenshot: OpenNet Initiative

The OpenNet Initiative, a partnership according to the site between “the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto; Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University; the Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme, University of Cambridge; and the Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University,” has posted an interactive map showing which countries filter or block particular social media sites. Facebook, Flickr, Orkut, Twitter and YouTube are the ones they focus on.

The usual culprits are represented: China intermittently blocks Facebook, Saudi Arabia totally blocks it; Saudi Arabia and Iran block Orkut (they seem to be the only two that care to do so); China and Iran block Twitter from time to time; and Indonesia apparently blocks YouTube off and on.

There are a couple of user-friendliness issues with the map: The pop-up that appears about a country when you hold your mouse over it seems to be too wide for the map window; and it would be nice to have instructions on how to navigate the map for those who aren’t click-savvy.

Not all countries have been tested though; hopefully that’s in the near future.

Other than those picky little things, ONI’s map is a great start, giving an interesting overview on which countries are extending their authoritarian might onto the internet.

Government Technology

San Francisco Opens the Data Floodgates

Crime incident map / Photo: Brett L., flickr
Crime incident map / Photo: Brett L., flickr

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that his city will provide crime, health and other municipal data on an online portal and make it free to use for anyone.

Sporting a fashionable “beta” in its logo, all datasets are available at

From restaurant guides accessing health code ratings to navigation systems updating the status of roadblocks, the datasets open the way for applications giving more detailed information to citizens or tourists in the bay area.

Even though the available number of datasets is low at the beginning  (about 100 datasets are available), it is expected to increase, creating even more possibilities for creative and informative uses.

The data includes a whole range of topics and forms, such as data on crime incidents, list of street trees or geographical data on road center lines. Uses could include, but are not limited to investigating whether your new apartment is in a crime area or not or helping policymakers make informed decisions on road construction by being able to find dangerous intersections.

Advantages of opening the data to anyone are manyfold:

  • Users might develop new applications or mashups no one has thought about.
  • It leads to more transparency of the city government and its decisions.
  • Private users might get the data out to the general public more quickly than the traditional city council.

This move is in line with many other projects aimed at opening government data.

A quick overview:

While all this is exciting news for proponents of open government, even more exciting is the fact that other cities are mulling over opening up their data as well. These include Vancouver, Canada, Birmingham, UK and New York.

A very good overview can be found on David Eaves’ blog entry “The Rise of the Open City“.

New Media Social Media Technology Internet

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!

Journalism Technology Internet

EPC: Waaaahhhhhhh

Photo: Addox/flickr
Photo: Addox/flickr

In one of the whiniest tirades I’ve read written by anyone over 3 feet tall, the European Publishers Council released the the so-called “Hamburg Declaration on Intellecutal Property Rights” in June.

The temper tantrum Declaration was signed by around 160 publishers and was meant to prompt the European Commission into action, calling on it to improve the “protection of intellectual property on the [i]nternet.”

Some gems from the document:

Numerous providers are using the work of authors, publishers and broadcasters without paying for it. Over the long term, this threatens the production of high-quality content and the existence of independent journalism.

I won’t even get into how this is totally not true. Oh by the way, signatories included folks from the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times Group, Ringier and Axel Springer….all bastions of independent journalism.

There should be no parts of the Internet where laws do not apply.

Oh really?

Legislators and governments at the national and international level should protect more effectively the intellectual creation of value by authors, publishers and broadcasters. Unauthorized use of intellectual property must remain prohibited whatever the means of distribution.

Yikes. I didn’t ask permission to cut and paste. Sorry y’all.

In any case, Google was one of the first to respond to the EPC’s call with a helpful hint: Exclude yourself from Google.


China Internet Users Surpass US Population

Photo: faungg/flickr
Photo: faungg/flickr
Via The Guardian:

China has more internet users that the entire population of the United States, according to new research by the government-sanctioned China Internet Network Information Center.

The study says that at the end of June there were 338m internet users in China, a 13.4% jump since the end of 2008, and well ahead of the official US population, put at 307m by the US Census Bureau.

But, according to the story, penetration is still relatively low, with China at just over 25 percent and the US at 70 percent.