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Glimpses from Philly

I’m not able to blog the Annenberg conference today because a) the connectivity is very spotty, and b) because I’ve been spending the few moments I’ve been online trying to sort out some Global Voices technical issues. Fortunately, David Weinberger and others are on the case.

Because David probably won’t blog his own remarks, I’ll offer a quick summary of his remarks:

Links are the architecture of the web. This is remarkable, because we’ve built it – those links are there on purpose. We’ve chosen to create this architecture out of our choices, the meanings we want to convey. These meanings aren’t conveyed in the syntax of the link – you can’t link to something and say “I hate it” or “I regret saying this when I was younger” in the link itself. But you can say that in the anchor text, where you can say anything that’s expressible in human language.

(Seth Finkelstein points out that this isn’t strictly true – you can use the NOFOLLOW attribute to make links that show no “link love”.)

Links are little acts of generosity. They’re an invitation to go away from my site. Commercial sites link, but they link internally. That’s not generosity, it’s narcissism. Given how often mainstream media sources beat up on bloggers for being guys in pajamas in their parents’ basement – deeply narcissistic builders of echo chambers – it’s ironic that the linking behavior of corporations is narcissistic, while blogger behavior is more generous.

We’ve built the web out of “little tiny acts of selflessness”. We wouldn’t have built it if the project were not a fundamentally moral one. Moral people recognize that there are other people in the world, and that these people matter. The architecture of the web fundamentally embodies this moral stance.

Very cool stuff. David tells me this is a preview of the last chapter of his upcoming book, which I’m waiting for with bated breath. (Or perhaps baited breath. Perhaps I need a mint.)

Other random ideas that caught my ear:

Lee Rainie from the Pew Internet and American Life project points out that 57% of American broadband users have created content of one sort or another. Roughly 30% of Americans as a whole have created content. These are amazing figures, and hopeful for folks like me who are enthusiastic about the read/write web.

– An interesting discussion takes place between a panel and the audience about what percent of total internet use is the viewing of porn. Someone offers a figure of 15% of total internet usage, a figure that struck me as optimistically low. Another audience member has done a study of search usage on the Dogpile search engine and reports that roughly 4% of searches are for adult content. Seth Finkelstein points out that analyses of Usenet used to point out that the majority of bits transmitted were porn images… but that when you looked at percentage of total messages posted, porn was a very small fraction of total content. In other words, it matters how you construct these studies and report these numbers.

Lada Adamic – co-author with Natalie Glance of a brilliant paper on linking behavior in the US political blogosphere – offers some great thoughts on how the blogosphere can modify memes. She follows a headline on Wired News: “Warning: blogs can be infectious”, which becomes “Bloggers plagarism scientifically proven” on Slashdot. Metafilter picks it up as “A good amount of bloggers are outright thieves”. One of the people cited in the original story decides to rein in the story, and makes a post titled, “FAQ: Do bloggers kill kittens?”. Hours later, several bloggers make posts titlted “Bloggers kill kittens.”

– God bless the BBC. Their live text feeds of World Cup games are the best thing since ESPN’s little Java applet that lets me “watch” baseball games during conference sessions. Plus the BBC commentators are really funny:

“Krzynowek wastes yet another corner, this time swinging the ball over everyone in the box and behind for a goal kick. Very disappointing so far for a man with a supposedly cultured left-foot.”

What a “supposedly cultured left-foot” looks like, I don’t know – I guess I’ll have to watch ESPN for highlights tonight…

4 thoughts on “Glimpses from Philly”

  1. 1)
    “These meanings aren’t conveyed in the syntax of the link – you can’t link to something and say “I hate it” or “I regret saying this when I was younger” in the link itself.”
    This is not completely true, there is a proposed microformat for doing this: VoteLinks (http://microformats.org/wiki/votelinks). You could add a rev=”vote-against” attribute to the HTML a tag in order to express you are linking a resource in order to criticize it (or vote-for or vote-abstain).
    See slide 9 of my presentation
    ( http://moloko.itc.it/paoloblog/presentations/presentation_wi05/presentation_wi05.html#slide9 ) for a visual representation of the idea.
    I wrote a not-earth-shaking paper giving empirical evidence on a real world dataset that allowing people to express vote-for, vote-abstain and vote-against would allow to create different (better?) algorithms, for example able to discriminate between attention and appreciation. Of course the sociology of the Web will change profoundly with VoteLinks: is having “negative” links good if you want to promote a pleasant environment (the Web)? But which other consequences this generate? And more questions as usual of course are possible …

    About the fact that “The architecture of the web fundamentally embodies this moral stance”, I think we should consider ourselves really lucky that companies didn’t “invent” the Web and that the Web came out of the mind of socially-minded people like Tim-Berners Lee, interested in sharing knowledge and not creating a global walmart. If companies were able to see the possible monetary gains before and engage in the early shaping of the Web architecture, that architecture would have not been so social and moral. We would have no free email, for example, just as at the moment we don’t have free phone calls (telco companies defined the architecture before socially-minded people had the opportunity of doing it).
    Would you imagine how would have been an Internet “invented” by microsoft, running on secret protocols and with secret formats of files? Well, i think it is an interesting mental exercise trying to picture how our 2006 (physical) world would have been VERY different.
    I conclude this (long) second point with a quote from the inventor of the Web that I think is very to the point:
    “The web is more a social creation than a technical one. I designed it for a social effect — to help people work together — and not as a technical toy. The ultimate goal of the Web is to support and improve our weblike existence in the world. We clump into families, associations, and companies. We develop trust across the miles and distrust around the corner.” —Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving The Web
    (From http://gmpg.org/xfn/intro)

    About the “Bloggers kill kittens” evolution, I took a picture of Lada Adamic showing it during the amazing “School and Workshop on Structure and Function of Complex Networks” held in 2005 at the Unesco Abdus Salam ICTP International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy
    You can find in at http://flickr.com/photos/phauly/16057879/ and in the same set there are more photos of her fantastic presentation as well. Enjoy and, you all people participating in the read/write Web don’t forget to selflessnessly link it! ;-)

  2. Thanks, Ethan. And great to share some soy chips with you the night before. (Yes, we’re both at Berkman, but our schedules have meshed the way combs mesh, so that the teeth never actually meet, except of course when both are at a conference in Philadelphia.)

    Seth’s totally right, of course, about “nofollow” being semantics embedded in links. I find “nofollow” useful although it seems like I’m one of a half dozen people who still use it. But, then, I found the “blink” tag useful. Many of us are also embedding tag info into link markup. So, one can express some meaning in the tag itself, but not a lot, and not nearly what you can in the words and pictures outside of the angle brackets.

    One small adjustment: My comments yesterday reflected the last chapter of my previous book (Small Pieces), not the upcoming one.

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