Copyright: DRM vs the Darknet

AUTHOR: Bryan Alexander

Reading this post on BoingBoing today, I was reminded of a paper presented more than two years ago at an ACM conference. Now, a story about police manically seizing all non-commercially-produced digital media might not trigger such an academic reaction, but bear with me for a moment.
In fact, a better objection is that one of the major themes of modern copyright is its shift from national regime to international system. But I should leave that for another time, because my point really applies to that.

That paper, “The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution”, raised a controversy when it argued that any system of digital content lockdown would fail, given, ah, imperfections, hacks, and the efficiencies of digital networks. Read, as they say, the whole thing. The paper even inspired a fine book of the same name.

It came out when many companies were striving for digital rights management (DRM) solutions, including that one which funded the think tank where “Darknet”‘s authors worked. I and others were struck by the stark oppositon the paper’s appearance articulated, between digital enclosures and rapid sharing. Between DRM and the darknet, in other words, was a handy catchphrase for describing the battles over digital copyright.

How has that phrase played out between the ACM and yesterday’s Manila cop attack? DRM continues to advance, led most notably by the speedbumps and restrictions Apple placed around iTunes. PDF files have had restrictions available for longer, but without the publicity. DVDs continue to experiment with limits on free access, from self-annihilation to disabling fastforward. At the same time, BitTorrent has sped up file-sharing, and content continues to be hacked open. Between DRM and darknet, the amount of digital content keeps increasing, beyond metadata labeling and effective search.
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A new approach to metadata: social tagging

AUTHOR: Bryan Alexander

A new approach to metadata has taken the internet by storm, and continues to advance through controversies and rapid development. This post is an introduction and provocation.

The most commonly used term for this new method is “folksonomy“, a neologism formed by taking the stem from “taxonomy” and adding “folk-” as a prefix, emphasizing its social nature.

The term, coined by Thomas Vander Wal and popularized by coined by Adam Mathes, seeks to address the metadata scheme seen in Web services like, Flickr, FURL, and Technorati’s blog tag initiative. In these projects users tag up items they value (pictures, URLs) according to language they devise. In knowledge management terms, these are user-generated or private taxonomies/ontologies. But folksonomies go further, in that they exist primarily for sharing. For example, I can check the delicious network for most popular URLs, and get a snapshot of social concerns by skimming the leading tags. A glance at a user’s tags or a group’s affords a sense of their research concerns. As per knowledge management, a group can surface a better sense of their thinking by generating tags for their work.

Flickr’s CEO sees this as an outcome of the historical development of cyberculture:

So the proliferation of capture devices, the always-on lifestyle, and the fact that people are now more familiar with computers and the Internet, very simply leads people to be more comfortable with interacting with each other online. It’s not weird to publish a stream of your photos and have people tune into that.

Perhaps most significant is that folksonomies have, so far, succeeded where professional metadata systems have failed, in getting users to tag their own work.
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The internet as horror genre continues

AUTHOR: Bryan Alexander

Several recent stories remind us that the rhetoric of cyberspace as locus horribilis is alive and well, not to mention historically persistent. We continue to construe digitally networked technology as the dark side of social mores, the realm of the uncanny, a haunted space of the excluded and despised.

British and Canadian media describe the internet as a zone of predation, where children (often: teenagers) are positioned as victims, their purity posited and sullied in the same discursive arc. The passivity of these subjects is very important, in that it screens out their unruly desires; such accounts as these are the obverse of, reaction to, containment of teen voice social software like LiveJournal and Xanga.

The media/war scandal of the hostage doll explores a different stratum of the uncanny internet. This is the uncanny valley of subjects blurred with objects, threatening and powerful as Kristeva’s abject. Kleist’s puppets went further, offering to replace humanity at the end of all things. The GI Joe Iraq case forecloses this apocalyptic edge, but only to lodge more firmly in the posthuman. The kidnapped doll, known only through the Web, is the flip side of an army transformed by information operations, where subjects and objective data are knitted closely together, and media warfare is at the first rank of strategy.

creating reality

I teach drama three days a week at a local ‘high school’ where the students have little to no previous experience. The biggest aspect that I struggle with as a drama teacher is that theater is an art as well as a process. You can not just memorize the line, get up on stage, and present a convincing character. The vdrama project (see the two previous posts for more information)emphasizes that drama is a process rather than a product and I believe that this is its biggest strength.

One interesting focus of this project is its emphasis on stage space. Students tend to interact with each other on a 2D level, leaving a lot of space left empty. The vdrama students are exposed to a variety of virtual stages in which their avatar can move and explore. This is a similar problem I face with my students. It is so useful to have these different spaces, not only for sheer exploration, but also because you can change the viewpoint of the avatar between first and third person. The third person view is similar to watching your performance on camera, and can allow the student the opportunity to id problems that he or she may not notice from the first person.

This seems to be a very pedagogical project. The benefits of constructivist learning greatly offset the low cost of renting a space in this environment.

Finding our voice

My fellow PhD students and I have spent a lot of time talking about voice in relation to the HUMlab blog. We all blog on our own, so having a blog voice is nothing new, but for some reason we are all having trouble on this blog. Today Jim and I spoke about it at some length. We discussed how blogs illustrate a process rather than a fixed point. We come from so many different backgrounds (yet all research something to do with cyber theory) that finding a link in our processes can seem simple, but can also be deceptively tricky. Another possibility for the proverbial cat holding our collective tongues has a lot to do with the concept of the word ‘lab’. We are looking at this concept in two different ways. In one way, we are representing a lab that means a lot to each of us. It is a space that we feel free to think outside the box, to be creative and innovative. It is a special place where people from a wide variety of disciplines can come together and find common ground. We want to represent lab itself in a way that does it justice. Jim and I talked about feeling the need to think analytically, write profoundly. Capture the essence of this space in such a way that was not necessary in the Jokkmokk blog project (mainly descriptive/creating an experience). Nor is this style necessary in our respective blogs. Combined with the need, the second meaning of ‘lab’ comes into play. The blog itself is a sort of lab; an experiment. We are constantly learning in this space…learning how to write, how to criticize, how to review. It is an intense verbal environment where we are testing out new theories and pushing the virtual boundaries of our physical space. 

We will continue to write, push the process and find our collective voice. It will be very interesting in 6 months time to take the archives of this blog and run it through a program (such as Sigmund) which will give us an idea of the topics we center on, the conversations we initiate and participate in. Perhaps such analysis will help shape our voices. I tend to believe, however, that our voices will be shaped more from practice and from feeling that we have a something valuable to say in this space than from word frequency. Tools like the above will be useful for tracing the paths of our combined trains of thought and for initiating new projects.

visualizing social bookmarks

I am very intrigued by the social affordances allowed in research blogging. The exchange of ideas and early/process criticism are one of the main reasons I blog. This exchange was strengthened, for me, when I discovered RSS and With, one can search through bookmarks, or even subscribe to someone’s links page. Now, you can even graphically search the tags through the combination of Touchgraph and While it does make pretty graphs, is this useful? Would you rather search for tags, or subscribers? When you find a group of information hunter/gathers you trust, their suggestion of a site automatically gives it some credence. Personally, I do find it useful, but I want both. I want to check what my network is subscribing to, as well as have an interface that visualizes related items to tags I am interested in.

remains of the jokkmokk blog

We just had a showing of different projects in the lab and Jim and I presented the Jokkmokk project. Describing the basic purpose and structure of the blogs, as well as summarizing our experience from the trip in the context of the discussions from this conference brought to light new ideas about certain aspects of the blog. For example,the largest percentage of visitors came from Jokkmokk itself. We were unsure why this was the case, especially considering the international attention the project received before its start. Lena mentioned that she had similar results in the demographics of the blogs she studied. Do readers tend to return to pages where they feel they have a shared experience. Does geographical location enhance this experience?

For more about our results from this project, read the paper that Therese and I presented at Blogtalk 2.0

Lena cont…

As a fellow blog researcher, I found Lena’s talk very interesting. She is examining, among other things, the relationship between the reader and the author, as well as the reader and the site. It was interesting to note the pattern of interactivity between those who have a blog (who prefer the comment function)to those who do not have a blog (and prefer to interact through email). Why? Is it comfort with the medium? The feeling of ‘right’ to speak on a site? The latter was attributed as a reason to post or not to post. Many felt that they did not have the right to post to the blog when they did not have one of their own. More on this here

an interesting beginning

The university director, Inge-Bert Täljedal, opened the conference, Den Teknologiska Texturen with the thought (paraphrased) ‘The humanities has always been driven by technology. where would we be if no one had invented the pen or paper or oil colors. It is no surprise that this generation is taking the tools we have and pushing the proverbial envelope.’