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2007 – best of a tough year

It’s a quiet day here in Lanesboro, as we prepare for our annual New Year’s party, where friends from all over the world come visit us for a few days, and we recharge our batteries and renew our ties to people we don’t get to see often enough. It’s one of my favorite times of the year, and a very good time to spend offline. I’ll likely disappear from the net later today and hope not to re-emerge until January 3rd at the earliest.

At this time of year, a lot of bloggers – including my lovely wife – are publishing lists of their best posts for the year. I wanted to do the same, but have been a bit stuck on my sense that this has been a difficult – and often lousy – year that I haven’t wanted to look at very closely. It’s a year that has been dominated by non-intellectual issues – Rachel’s stroke, and the endless – and ultimately unsuccessful – struggle to find a diagonsis; problems with my vision; health issues my father is currently facing. For much of the year, I’ve felt like the best I could do was simply to keep up with my travel and speaking engagements, get all the email answered and keep the non-online parts of my life from descending into crisis. Not the best environment in which to get thinking done.

But reading through a year’s posts is a good way to remind yourself that a year is never just one thing or another. A year that I remember mostly including endless waits in doctor’s offices and airport lounges included some beautiful travel, both far from home and much closer by, some very silly projects, a wealth of wonderful talks, both at conferences like TED, TED Africa and Pop!Tech and at Berkman, and a couple of posts I’m proud of writing. Here are some of my favorites of 2007:

– Conference blogging gets me invited to conferences I couldn’t otherwise afford to go to, and which I enjoy being present at.
– Other bloggers link to my conference posts, which raises my Technorati profile, my google juice, etc., and makes it more likely people will read my original writing.
– People expect me to. (This is a good and bad thing.)

From “The 5-4-3 double play, or ‘The art of conference blogging'”

The dreams articulated by pioneers like Barlow, Rheingold and others are a proud legacy of the Internet. But we need to ask whether they saw the Internet bringing people together into a single, unitary net culture, or whether they saw that the Internet could be a space that allowed people from all different cultures to meet on common ground. The former is a fun club to belong to, where we can trade All Your Base jokes and cat macros. But the latter is powerful, political, and potentially transformative. It’s something worth fighting for.

From “What I Think We’re Trying to Do

Concluding that the fanfic authors who submit stories to Pornish Pixies are trying to recruit children for predatory purposes is a radical misunderstanding of the rules of this closed community. When LiveJournal reviewed the content of the Pornish Pixies group, they quickly concluded that these folks were writing fiction, not harming children, and restored the group. They had misread the metadata because they didn’t speak the language

From “Six Apart casts ‘evanesco’. Fanfic authors cast ‘expelliarmus’.”

while Web 1.0 was invented so that theoretical physicists could publish research online, Web 2.0 was created so that people could publish cute photos of their cats. But this same cat dissemination technology has proved extremely helpful for activists, who’ve turned these tools to their own purposes.

from “The connection between cute cats and web censorship” (aka, the Cute Cat Theory). See also “Cute Cat Theory: The China Corrolary” and “Generative Filtering”

For-profit companies, many founded by expatriate Africans with a few million dollars, would provide the sorts of resources we’ve traditionally expected governments and parastatals to provide. Ideally, governments would work with these providers to bring services to areas of their countries not able to pay for them; given the mixed record of African governments in creating infrastructure, perhaps we’re better off hoping that most governments stay out of the way of innovative infrastructure providers.

from “Incremental Infrastructure, or how mobile phones might wire Africa”

…I’m restraining myself from responding with another question: “Why the heck do you want to know this person’s name?”

I don’t know about you, but knowing that a blogpost was written by someone named “Mohammed Hassan”, rather than by “Muslimpundit” tells me approximately nothing.

From “What’s in a name?

In a world where nearly everything is free due to ad support, it’s quite likely that a casual user may not know that Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects are supported almost exclusively by user donation, and a banner on top of pages may not be sufficient to challenge the paradigm that everything on the internet is free.

In fact, charitable giving is now free as well. Sort of.

from “Penny for your thoughts

One of the utopian hopes for the Internet is that it would help bring users into contact with people from other nations simply because we’re all connected to one another. But parochialism is a powerful force, and it’s pretty easy to spend years online without encountering content outside your own language and culture (especially if you’re an English speaker.) Shared joint projects that cross cultural lines are an exception rather than a rule, but they’re an intriguing hint that shared practice can create bonds that are difficult to create otherwise.

from “Pokémon and International Politics?”

I’m not accusing De Vellis of ripping off Astrubal’s work. It’s quite likely that he’s never seen the Tunisian remix and that he had the idea of remixing the ad independently. Nor am I criticizing the press for failing to credit the Tunisians for remixing the video before the pro-Obama camp did – I wouldn’t have seen this remix had I not been hanging out with Tunisian human rights activists. But it’s an interesting reminder that US activists aren’t the only ones using the tools of the read/write web, and that they’re not always the first to use these tools.

from “Democrats invent the remix, only three years after the Tunisians

There are half a dozen photos pinned up over my desk. Half are pictures of people I used to work with in offices we used to share. What photos will I pin up from Global Voices? Bloggers squeezing into a group shot in Delhi after the 2006 summit? Or my computer monitor, next to a window overlooking birch trees and Onota Lake?

From “Where I work these days

Thanks for reading, everyone, and see you in 2008.

10 thoughts on “2007 – best of a tough year”

  1. Hi Ethan
    Just a quick comment to say thanks for your informative and inspiring posts and coverage of the world at large. I’ve passed on many of your posts and links this year to students that I hang with – your writing is making a difference for humanity’s sake.
    Blessings and Happy New Year!

  2. Even in a very tough year, you manage to write excellent, informative, interesting, and, at times, inspiring posts. I comment very rarely because I feel shy to write where my knowledge or experiences are so limited. I just wanted you to know that I click on your blog eagerly when it comes up on my google reader. May you and your family experience a fine year of renewed health and happiness. All the very best.

  3. Happy New Year Ethan.

    Thank you so much for sharing your thinking and understanding this year. I learn a lot form you blog: about technology, democracy, society and etc. Not only about United Sates but also other part of the wold. I wish the media shadow you ways of sharing information!!

    What is very interested about your blog is, not only you infidelity problem but also you share you suggestion and thinking. You writing make people to think and see the problem clearly. Mostly you write longer with a lot of link and attachment. Thanks you Ethan for taking me to different part of the world and conference, meeting, talks, etc. I will keep waiting to learn more in 2008.

  4. Greetings from Phnom Penh,
    I felt your sense of humor in the first place I met you in London, when you guided Global Voices folks all the way from Hilton Hotel to Reuters’s world headquarter.

    Ehtan, I’m so happy to earn your affection. It’s one of the greatest things of the year for me. And I keep it with me for long.

    All the best to you and family.

  5. Ethan:

    Best wishes to Rachel and you for the New Year 2008. I hope that the health issues are resolved — no more cryptogenic leaky roofs either.

    I am grateful for the good things that I receive from reading you. Thank you.

    See you in a few months.


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