Popular Posts

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Web censorship: Correspondent reports

Web censorship: Correspondent reports
As human rights group Amnesty International launches a global campaign to try to halt censorship of the internet by governments, BBC correspondents report from some countries where web users face difficulties.


Officially China does not censor the internet. According to the Chinese government, its internet regulation is no different from that in America, Britain, or anywhere else in the world.

Students use the internet at a computer room in western China
In its quest to control the internet China has sought overseas help

China says it only blocks internet sites that are damaging, such as pornographic sites, or ones promoting things like terrorism.

The reality of China's internet is very different.

Just try logging on to the BBC News website from an internet cafe in China. You can't. The same goes for websites for The New York Times, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and a host of others which could hardly be described as pornographic or "dangerous".

China probably has the most sophisticated internet monitoring and censorship system in the world. In the last few years it has spent tens of millions of dollars building what has come to be known as the "Great Firewall of China". In the past, whole websites were blocked. Today the system can block out individual parts of websites.

In its quest to control the internet China has sought help from overseas. Some large, US-based computer software companies are believed to have sold Beijing the sophisticated software needed to run its filtering system. Companies like Google and Yahoo! have also been accused of co-operating in China's internet censorship.

Google, for example, has modified its Chinese language search engine so that it does not show results for sites the Chinese government deems "harmful".

Inside China there is an even larger effort to control the country's own internet.

Internet service providers (ISPs) are required by law to monitor their own websites and chat-rooms for "dangerous content". Every ISP in China has its own staff of "web police". On top of that government employs thousands more who constantly scan the Chinese web, closing down any site or blog that is considered subversive.

For those Chinese who persist in using the internet to criticize Communist party rule, the end result can be a prison cell. Three young men were recently sentenced to prison terms of eight to ten years for using the internet to send "sensitive" information to foreign based websites.


Cuba has vowed to be a force to be reckoned with in the digital era.

Thousands of Cubans are being trained in a new school for computer technology on the outskirts of Havana. Free computer clubs have been set up across the country. Even the smallest rural schools are being provided with their own terminals.

Internet sign
Cuba's licensed internet terminals are meant only for tourists

But at the same time the government is working hard to prevent its citizens from surfing the net without restraint. Shops in Havana might appear to sell high-quality computers, but actually making a purchase is impossible for Cubans without special approval, which is rarely granted.

Similar restrictions are in place for anyone who might want to open up an account with the state internet service provider. Exceptions include senior government officials, academic researchers, and foreigners.

The authorities say these regulations are in place in order to ensure the internet in Cuba is used for "social and collective use."


Although all Cuban media is rigorously state controlled, the government rejects accusations that it is censoring the net.

It concedes that some sites are blocked, but say these are "terrorist, xenophobic, or pornographic". Websites based in the US which publish articles by dissidents from within Cuba are generally inaccessible.

The government says that what it is doing is "prioritising" the internet, for use by sectors such as education and health. Essential, it says, given Cuba's limited resources, and limited bandwidth.

The bandwidth problem is blamed on the United States. As a result of the US trade embargo, Cuba cannot link up to the web via a direct fibre optic line. Instead it has to use more expensive satellite links.

Thousands of Cubans get around their governments restrictions and access the internet via the black market. User IDs and passwords are sold by state employees whose jobs give them legal access. Some log on via home made computers built from smuggled parts.

A legal alternative is to go to one of the cyber cafes that are being set up across the country. But these have another barrier - cost. Half an hour surfing the web costs around $3. That might be comparable to the price in other parts of the world, but in Cuba, where the average salary is $15 a month, it is substantial.


In the United Arab Emirates, internet censorship centres on two distinct areas; pornography and the criticism of Gulf governments. While the majority of the multi-national population welcomes the blocking of pornography sites, the same cannot be said for the more politically motivated cases.

New construction continues in Dubai
The UAE is one of the fastest developing countries in the world

From the UAE, attempting to access sites like www.uaeprison.com or www.arabtimes.com (published in the United States) brings up an apology for the site being blocked and an explanation; it is "due to its content being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the United Arab Emirates."

It is not clear how the monopoly internet provider, Etisilat, determines what contravenes the country's values. There is a right of reply on any blocked site message though, allowing surfers to suggest it be made accessible.

For many, the censorship of sites which question, discuss or oppose the ruling families of the Gulf states and their absolute power, is anachronistic. The UAE is one of the fastest developing countries in the world, but this development is far more economic than political.

Satirical blogs, parodying the city and its residents, such as secretdubai.blogspot.com, www.dubaienquirer.com and onebigconstructionsite.blogspot.com can be found.

Internet users in Dubai's commercial free zones - like Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City and Knowledge Village - are able to sidestep the strict state censorship by using a different proxy. The more technically savvy users in other parts of the country are also finding ways to access the banned sites they want to view.

In March, there were reports internet cafe users could have their personal details recorded and kept on file. The explanation from the authorities was that this was to curb "cyber crime" including hacking and sending spam emails, but it has brought into focus questions of personal privacy.

The opening-up of the telecoms sector which is due to allow another state-run company, Du, to operate from later this year is unlikely to change the position on blocked sites.

Perhaps one of the biggest annoyances for the mostly expatriate population in the Emirates is the inaccessibility of internet telephony sites like www.skype.com. This is widely seen as economic censorship; the state wanting to ensure continuing large profits through migrant workers making international telephone calls.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Arab Media in the Information Age


The Arab media has been able to effect a qualitative and quantitative improvement in the past few years. Today, it is disseminating more information to a wider and growing audience. In fact, it has not only made its presence felt on the world stage but has even been able to influence the course of international events. This change has largely been brought about by Arab satellite news channels, Arab websites, and international Arabic newspapers.

In spite of these achievements, the Arab media still suffers from several structural shortcomings, which it needs to immediately address and overcome. The book contributes towards promoting the cause of the Arab media, enrich its expertise and chart its future course. It seeks to diagnose the ills facing the Arab media; assess its orientation, content, and performance; study its social responsibilities and functions; evaluate the extent of its influence on Arab public opinion and its role in presenting Western views to the Arab world. The book also studies the experiences of the new Arab satellite channels. In addition, the book delves into certain contentious issues such as the independence and credibility of the media and the relationship of the press with commercial interests and political influence. It also covers a comparative study of the Western and Arab media and examines the role of the press in times of war, besides focusing on the growing role of the Internet in the Arab world.

The book draws on the expertise and insight of a distinguished group of contributors, which consist of eminent media professionals, prominent researchers and academicians from the Arab world and beyond.

Wide open future for the web

Wide open future for the web
By Jonathan Fildes
BBC News science and technology reporter in Edinburgh

Web users in Kenya, AP
The web has come a long way since it was conceived

The real and virtual worlds collided this week in Edinburgh, as the past, present and future of the web was debated at the WWW2006 conference.

It brought together 1,200 delegates from 46 countries, and saw FBI agents and suited captains of industry rub shoulders with academics from Togo and British healthcare workers.

Sir David Brown, chairman of Motorola started proceedings with a barrage of staggering figures.

In the mid-1980s, he said, the mobile phone industry estimated that by the year 2000 there would be a market for 900,000 phones worldwide. The mobile phone was going to be a tool for business people.

In fact, when we reached the millennium, the actual market for handsets was more like 450 million - that is 900,000 phones every 19 hours.

"If you're going to be 46,000% wrong, it's best to err on the side of caution," he joked.

Now the mobile phone is morphing into something new and it is thanks to another invention of the 1980s - the World Wide Web.

Going mobile

The drive to push the web on to more than two billion mobile devices was a big theme at this year's conference with researchers and companies keen to replicate the success of the original web.

Tim Berners-Lee, AP

Since last year's conference in Japan, most efforts have focused on drawing up guidelines to standardise the look and feel of mobile web pages.

It is the kind of grunt work that never makes the headlines but will play a key role next time you are in the pub, on your mobile phone, browsing for the time of the last train home.

Practical efforts that have big effects are commonplace at a conference like WWW20006.

There is none of the excess of some of the large technology shows, unless you count the delegates dressed as cowboys and a two-metre tall beaver advertising next year's conference in Banff, Canada.

Instead the main hall is decked out in posters with titles like "Strong authentication in web proxies" and "Graphical representation of RDF queries".

Groups of techies cluster around laptops between attending seminars on everything from internet crime to the latest techniques for processing scientific data.

These are the people that helped create the web and now continue to craft it in new and inventive ways. And there is one techie in particular that draws crowds from around the world.

Tier trouble

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, was the undisputed star of the event.

Mobile phones, AFP/Getty

This year he talked about "net neutrality" and his desire to see his creation remain as a single entity.

As IP television and video start to flood the web, some US telecoms companies are starting to think about charging content providers for a priority service.

This two-tier internet could thrust the US into a "dark period," he said, and any attempts to push it through should be resisted.

Sir Tim also talked about his blog. His original concept for the web allowed users to edit and add content to web pages, yet it is only recently that this idea has been realised.

But tools like blogs and wikis are changing the way people work and communicate.

The social wiki at the conference, for example, allowed delegates to post ideas, look for research partners, organise meetings on the hoof or just arrange to meet up for a dram.

Smart web

Sir Tim also outlined his next great vision for the web. Although it has been talked about for five years, the idea of making web pages understandable by machines, known as the semantic web, now seems to be coming together.

Personal semantic software robots that could organise your life by bringing together data from calendars, retail information, health records and even global positioning satellites were discussed without a smirk.

Although ideas like this are still some time off - no one seems to talk about time scales with the semantic web - some of the necessary infrastructure is complete and people are now building the tools to create the vision.

The next step is to get business, academia and millions of web users to buy into the idea.

This may be the biggest hurdle as more and more personal information becomes accessible online.

The semantic web has the potential to drill into this data deeper than ever before and people will have to start taking more seriously the idea of having a life online.

New programmes and methods are being created to keep these issues in check.

But at conferences like WWW2006, the web community can throw caution to the wind and fine tune their grand visions of the future.

Amnesty to target net repression

Amnesty to target net repression
Yahoo homepage, AFP
Yahoo is accused of helping China identify dissidents
Internet users are being urged to stand up for online freedoms by backing a new campaign launched by human rights group Amnesty International.

Amnesty is celebrating 45 years of activism by highlighting governments using the net to suppress dissent.

The campaign will highlight abuses of rights the net is used for, and push for the release of those jailed for speaking out online.

It will also name hi-tech firms aiding governments that limit online protests.

Pledge bank

Called Irrepressible.info, the campaign will revolve around a website with the same name. While the human rights group has run separate campaigns about web repression and the jailing of net dissidents before now, Irrepressible.info will bring them all together.

It aims to throw light on the many different ways that the freedom to use the net is limited by governments.

For instance, said a spokesman for Amnesty, around the globe net cafes are being closed down, home PCs are being confiscated, chat in discussion forums is being watched and blogs are being censored or removed.

I believe the internet should be a force for political freedom, not repression. People have the right to seek and receive information and to express their peaceful beliefs online without fear or interference. I call on governments to stop the unwarranted restriction of freedom of expression on the internet and on companies to stop helping them do it
"The internet has become a new frontier in the struggle for human rights," said Kate Allen, UK director of Amnesty International.

"Its potential to empower and educate, to allow people to share and mobilise opinion has led to government crackdowns."

Ms Allen added that there were growing numbers of cases in which those who have turned to the net to discuss change or protest about government policies have been jailed for what they said.

For instance, she said, Chinese journalist Shi Tao is serving a 10-year jail sentence for sending an e-mail overseas which detailed the restrictions the Chinese government wanted to impose on papers writing about the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Hi-tech firm Yahoo helped identify the journalist via his e-mail account. Amnesty is calling for the jailed journalist to be released immediately.

Profit and principles

The campaign will seek to get net users to sign a pledge that opposes repressive use of the net. The pledges will be collated and presented to a meeting of the UN's Internet Governance Forum that is due to meet in Athens in November 2006.

Amnesty wants to get people using an icon in e-mail signatures or on websites that contains text from censored sites.

The group also wants to run an e-mail campaign to target companies to stop putting "profit before principles" and respect human rights everywhere they operate.

Reports will be prepared on those countries that place restrictions on what can be said online or use it to keep an eye on those expressing discontent.

"Irrepressible.info will harness the power of the internet and of individuals to oppose repression and stand up for free speech," said Ms Allen.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Helping readers become watchdogs

The Sunlight Foundation hopes to use reader-driven grassroots reporting to help uncover news from the U.S. federal government.
Posted: 2006-05-25
Just as news organizations can harness the power of grassroots journalism to extend their newsroom's reporting capabilities, interest groups, corporations and watchdog groups can use distributed reader-driven reporting networks to gather and publish news online, as well.

Ellen Miller is the executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based watchdog group that's using grassroots reporting techniques to cover the U.S. Federal government. She spoke by phone with OJR about the foundation and the promise of citizen reporting.

OJR: Tell me about the Sunlight Foundation, and what you're set up to do.

Miller: The Sunlight Foundation was created out of the desire to stimulate more investigative attention to what goes on in Congress, by both citizens, bloggers, and journalists. With the idea of making more resources more easily available. And stimulating a kind of environment where looking into what members of Congress are doing on a daily basis becomes sort of a norm. To that end, we've created a number of interactive projects for, particularly, citizens. One is a Congresspedia, where people are invited to contribute to a Web-based, wiki encyclopedia online. We've created online tutorials for people about the issue of money and politics. And we're doing some distributed reporting, where we ask citizens to go out and report back to us what members are doing – for example, on earmarks. We've also given a number of grants, to organizations to digitize information, which should be digitized by members of Congress, but is not, lie personal financial disclosure information, information about lobbyists -- what lobbyists file, who's lobbying whom and how much they're spending on it all. And so those are just a few projects.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Web inventor warns of 'dark' net

Web inventor warns of 'dark' net
By Jonathan Fildes
BBC News science and technology reporter in Edinburgh

Tim Berners-Lee
Tim Berners-Lee was knighted in the UK for his invention
The web should remain neutral and resist attempts to fragment it into different services, web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee has said.

Recent attempts in the US to try to charge for different levels of online access web were not "part of the internet model," he said in Edinburgh.

He warned that if the US decided to go ahead with a two-tier internet, the network would enter "a dark period".

Sir Tim was speaking at the start of a conference on the future of the web.

"What's very important from my point of view is that there is one web," he said.

"Anyone that tries to chop it into two will find that their piece looks very boring."

An equal net

The British scientist developed the web in 1989 as an academic tool to allow scientists to share data. Since then it has exploded into every area of life.

You get this tremendous serendipity where I can search the internet and come across a site that I did not set out to look for
Tim Berners-Lee
However, as it has grown, there have been increasingly diverse opinions on how it should evolve.

The World Wide Web Consortium, of which Sir Tim is the director, believes in an open model.

This is based on the concept of network neutrality, where everyone has the same level of access to the web and that all data moving around the web is treated equally.

This view is backed by companies like Microsoft and Google, who have called for legislation to be introduced to guarantee net neutrality.

The first steps towards this were taken last week when members of the US House of Representatives introduced a net neutrality bill.

Pay model

But telecoms companies in the US do not agree. They would like to implement a two-tier system, where data from companies or institutions that can pay are given priority over those that cannot.

This has particularly become an issue with the transmission of TV shows over the internet, with some broadband providers wanting to charge content providers to carry the data.

The internet community believes this threatens the open model of the internet as broadband providers will become gatekeepers to the web's content.

Providers that can pay will be able to get a commercial advantage over those that cannot.

There is a fear that institutions like universities and charities would also suffer.

The web community is also worried that any charges would be passed on to the consumer.


Sir Tim said this was "not the internet model". The "right" model, as exists at the moment, was that any content provider could pay for a connection to the internet and could then put any content on to the web with no discrimination.

Speaking to reporters in Edinburgh at the WWW2006 conference, he argued this was where the great benefit of the internet lay.

"You get this tremendous serendipity where I can search the internet and come across a site that I did not set out to look for," he said.

A two-tier system would mean that people would only have full access to those portions of the internet that they paid for and that some companies would be given priority over others.

But Sir Tim was optimistic that the internet would resist attempts to fragment.

"I think it is one and will remain as one," he said.

The WWW2006 conference will run until Friday at the International Conference Centre in Edinburgh.

the WWW2006 Conference

This wiki is provided to arrange informal meetings, social events etc. at the WWW2006 Conference in Edinburgh in May 2006.

Feel free to add new pages to the wiki as seems sensible.

Teen craze over networking sites

Teen craze over networking sites
By Mark Ward
Technology correspondent, BBC News website

Screengrab of Bebo homepage, Bebo
Bebo has racked up 22 million members since launch
While almost everyone who uses the net has heard of Friends Reunited, relatively few will be familiar with Bebo, unless they happen to be a teenager.

In the 13 months since it launched, Bebo has racked up more than 22 million members. It is aimed at those aged 13-30 but has proved particularly popular with school and college students.

Bebo is a social networking site that lets members share pictures and messages with friends that are also on the service. As such, it stands alongside sites such as MySpace, Friendster and many others.

"For it to be fun, you have to connect with your friends," Bebo boss Michael Birch told the BBC News website. "So you badger them into signing up."

Often, he said, someone at one school or college will sign up and soon afterwards loads of other pupils at the same place will join too.

But this popularity has come with a price. Some schools and colleges have stopped pupils from using the site and block access to it during the school day.

We do include a link to safety tips on our homepage and at the footer of every single page on the site.
Michael Birch, Bebo
One school that has banned Bebo is Kent College, an independent girls school near Tunbridge Wells.

Debbie Cowley, technology teacher at the college, told the BBC she was concerned about what pupils were sharing via the site. Some were posting personal details, pictures and even making disparaging comments about the school and its staff.

Ms Cowley said she was not happy with the level of security on Bebo and wanted more warnings about the potential dangers of sharing too much information.

In response to these concerns, Mr Birch said: "As I understand it, some schools have blocked us and they block many sites as a matter of course if they are not directly related to school work.

"We do include a link to safety tips on our homepage and at the footer of every single page on the site.

"We are continuing to look at new ways of educating users."

Youth appeal

Friends Reunited was a huge success with the first generation of people that went online because it allowed them to find old schoolmates and catch up.

Teenage friends, Corbis
The site has proved to be a big hit with teenagers
By contrast Bebo is aimed at a generation growing up with the net who, thanks to its wide reach and new ways to communicate, will never lose touch with their school friends.

British-born Mr Birch said Bebo was designed to be like Friends Reunited but with features that encouraged people to come back.

By contrast, he said, on Friends Reunited, once you have the contact details for old friends you do not have much reason to go back to the site again.

Mr Birch said it was just about to add in a system which would let people upload photos from their mobile phones to their Bebo pages.

"Everyone is taking pictures with their mobile phone but doing nothing with them," he said. Charging systems on current mobile networks make it difficult for people to share them with lots of their friends.

Busy people

Every update prompts an e-mail about the change to those interested which can kick off another round of visits.

Mr Birch said his extended family uses Bebo and its blogging and picture storing features to keep up with everything that is going on, even though relatives are spread out across the world.

This is not just occasional contact, he said, adding that it might mark a big change in social relations.

"We're totally in touch with them," he said. "We see their lives evolve through the website."

Because of the involvement it encourages, he believes the site has a long life ahead of it, if for no other reason that if people wanted to leave they would have to persuade all their mates to go with them.

"You invest a lot of time building your network and home page, putting up content and photos," he said, "and there's a certain loyalty to that."

And for those that want to know, the word Bebo does not mean anything specific to founder Mr Birch.

"It's meaningless," he said, "which is good because users can put their own meaning on it."

Smart sites to power semantic web

Smart sites to power semantic web
By Jonathan Fildes
BBC News science and technology reporter in Edinburgh

Holiday makers in sea, AP
The semantic web may make it easier to find the perfect holiday
Much of the talk at the 2006 World Wide Web conference has been about the technologies behind the so-called "semantic web".

Phrases like "increased intelligence", "next generation" and "bringing meaning to the web" are being bandied around by researchers, exhibitors and delegates alike.

But like many big ideas behind the hype and evangelising finding a concise definition of what the semantic web is and what it will do is more difficult.

According to Professor Wendy Hall, head of a research team at the University of Southampton looking into the semantic web, part of the problem is that the term means so many things to different people.

However, she believes it can be summed up as "creating a web that can be interpreted by machines".

Clever codes

The idea was articulated in an article in Scientific American five years ago by web creator Tim Berners-Lee, Professor Jim Hendler of the University of Maryland, and Professor Ora Lassila of phone giant Nokia.

It was their idea to try to start to make sense of the tangle of data on the World Wide Web.

Until now, almost all of the information on webpages is produced by humans for humans.

Although a computer is good for viewing the information on webpages and crunching some of the numbers contained in databases, it is no good for extracting the meaning of words and numbers on websites.

Man sneezing, PA
Flu outbreaks could be tracked if web data were smarter
So, at the moment, if you want to book a hotel in Majorca on the web you have to use a search engine to search for "hotels" and "Majorca".

You then have to trawl through various websites to look at prices, facilities, distance from the beach and the best time to visit.

It is up to you to find the hotel that best fits with your budget and holiday plans.

The semantic web hopes to do away with all of this fuss and wasted time.

On the semantic web all of the data about the hotels, for example, will be made available, but in addition it will be classified and then "tagged" with common descriptions to tell computers what they are looking at.

"That allows you to ask much more complex questions," says to Professor Hall.

For example, you could ask your search engine to find a hotel that costs less than £50 a night, that has a large swimming pool, and is less than five minutes walk from the beach.

The semantic search engine would then cross-reference all of the information about hotels in Majorca, including checking whether the rooms are available, and then bring back the results which match your query.

Although this improves on what we have now, the next step is even more intelligent.

"Once you have all of that data on the web in a form that a machine can understand, then you can start having services like a personal agent that picks a holiday for you or even negotiates the price on your behalf," explains Professor Hall.

Cold comfort

But the semantic web goes way beyond booking your next holiday.

Screengrab of Swoogle homepage, University of Maryland
The first tools to use the semantic web are emerging
Big business, whose motto has always been "time is money", is looking forward to the day when multiples sources of financial information can be cross-referenced to show market patterns almost instantly.

Financial markets, pharmaceutical companies and other data-heavy industries are all looking to the future and starting to get their data in order.

The academic world is also interested. The semantic web could allow epidemiologists to pick up on disease patterns by comparing geographical data with prescription records.

So retail data that shows a run on flu remedies can be married with geographical location to show that a particular town, neighbourhood or even street has an outbreak of flu.

Efforts to build this next wave have been going on since the Scientific American article was published.

But before the general public will start to notice the benefits, researchers must make sure that software is developed and, importantly, that the data is available and classified correctly.

According to semantic visionary Jim Hendler some of those pieces are starting to fall into place quite quickly.

There is now even a test version of a semantic search engine called "Swoogle" at the University of Maryland.

But just as getting a coherent definition of the semantic web is tricky, finding out when it will arrive is harder still.

However, one thing that all the researchers at the conference agree upon is that when it does appear, anything that has gone before on the web will seem mundane in comparison.

"You ain't see nothing yet," promised Professor Hendler.

Social sites wrestle for top spot

Social sites wrestle for top spot
Bebo and MySpace logos, BBC
The two sites regularly swap the top social networking spot
Community websites MySpace and Bebo are fighting to see who is most popular among young people, reveals research.

Analysis by Nielsen NetRatings shows the two companies have regularly swapped the top spot in sites that give people space to blog and post pictures.

Nielsen said the pair are the fifth and sixth biggest brands on the net when measured by page views.

The competition between the two looks set to intensify as Bebo gets a $15m (£8m) funding boost from investors.

Site fight

Although both MySpace and Bebo are relative newcomers to the web, both have proved hugely popular with younger users.

Nielsen NetRatings said the growth in the two free-to-use sites had far outstripped the 12% annual growth in audience seen among the so-called "member community" sites.

By comparison over the same time period Bebo's audience grew 162% and that of MySpace by 295%.

Both sites give people their own webspace that they can use to post journal or blog entries or use as a gallery for pictures or videos. The sites encourage people to get their friends involved and comment on the information being posted.

In April 2005, Bebo was recording 790,000 unique users compared to only 443,000 for MySpace. However, News Corporation's purchase of MySpace for $580m (£308m) in July 2005 has helped it catch up and overtake its rival.

"The six months after News Corp bought MySpace saw them and Bebo leapfrogging each other as the most popular of the member communities that centre on user-generated content," said Alex Burmaster, european internet analyst at Nielsen NetRatings.

The analysis shows that Bebo users tend to be younger than those on its rival with 54% of Beboers aged under 18 compared to 31% on MySpace.

The audience on Bebo tends to make more use of the site spending, on average, one hour and 52 minutes on the site every month. MySpace members rack up only one hour 28 minutes a month.

Mr Burmaster said it would be interesting to see how the two sites evolve and expects to see other money making methods added to each.

Ultimately it might not be the market that determines the success of either site. Some schools are moving to clamp down on the use of both services over fears that children are posting unsuitable material to sites such as Bebo and MySpace.

For instance, in late May a school district in Illinois has said it will punish students that post images or information about underage smoking, drinking and other "inappropriate" or illegal activities. The district is now encouraging its 3,200 students to sign up to the new code of conduct.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Dan Gillmor answers your concerns

Dan Gillmor answers your concerns

Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media, responds to e-mails from readers about the emerging threat to in-depth journalism as the advertising newspapers use to keep themselves solvent moves to the net.

Technology transfer

Reader: Does business pose a serious threat? It requires a change in tactics for a modern world. We used to write on stone! Not many people want to carry a bit of paper nowadays. Laptops do more. Mobile phones develop into mini PC's (I already have one) and, of course mobile TV. Does traditional journalism still have an important role? Yes! It just requires keeping in advance of technology also, to deliver it with global ease and interest. Journalism/News media should already be setting up as ISP's.

Paris Hilton and Bugs Bunny, AP
Some fear news will become all gossip and sensationalism
Dan: Yes, but this still doesn't solve the business model question. I get most of my news online these days. Delivering the news online is a great deal easier than transferring the business model.

Readers write

Reader: What people find so appealing about the internet is that its so interactive. If the BBC allowed the public to write their own news blogs,(then compiled into readable form), people might find the news more interesting. Reading about gang culture from a gang member not from an Oxford student. The BBC could edit and help people express their thoughts into print. A more multicultural, interactive approach might greatly improve journalism as seen today. Joan, Los Angeles

Dan: No one needs the BBC's permission to write a blog. It would be interesting to see how BBC journalists created a digest of best material from blogs, though.

Yellow press

Reader: Journalism died in a lot of our papers a long time ago. It was replaced with a thing called Sensationalism. It is like Journalism except it uses shorter words, lots of adjectives and it replaces the truth with speculation. If less adverts means that we get more Journalism and less Sensationalism then great, if not we might just as well forget that there is a difference between fact and fiction! Barry Barker, Bury St. Edmunds, United Kingdom

Dan: This is all too true in some respects, and sensationalism has become an integral part of papers in the United States, too. But when I visit the UK I see a high level of quality. I avidly read the Guardian and Telegraph, for example, and find myself envious of what you have. My local paper isn't up to their standards. I don't see how fewer advertisements will lead to more journalism, though. It's easier (and less expensive) to gossip than do serious reporting.

Blog bias

Reader: Not dying but exposed; the fundamental issue is credibility. The "traditional" journalism Gillmor pines for has never existed - since when has journalism been objective or unbiased? The difference today is that these biases, though denied by mainstream media, have become more pronounced with catastrophic effect on the credibility of the art. Bloggers, conversely, tend to be more candid in disclosing their biases. Paul W, Washington DC

Dan: I wonder if you're upset with journalism that doesn't support your view of the world than with its so-called bias. I agree that objectivity is almost impossible to achieve, and that transparency is essential in the emerging world of news. I'd like to see more disclosures in all media.

Word perfect

Reader: I have been interviewed for twelve articles (two front page stories) related to my profession and my current job over the last two years. Audiotapes were made of each interview. The published "news articles" were only 50%-75% accurate and four times I've been quoted for statements that I never made. I used to trust journalist to be professional. Now I wonder can I even trust what I read on the sport's page. Steven, Sacramento, CA

Mobile phone, AP
Product placements could crop up more on TV news
Dan: This is an all-too-common complaint, and it's happened to me, too (being misquoted or taken out of context). But I've found the accuracy quotient to be much higher, and I also believe that journalists try hard to get it right even when they misunderstand a nuance. It would be valuable if more journalists had the experience of having been covered by other journalists; we'd all be more careful, I suspect.

Ad evolution

Reader: I foresee not a divorce of TV programs and advertising but a marriage. They will be intertwined either in space (by splitting the screen) or in time (by having performers make frequent brief product references) to prevent skipping of the ads. This will affect of forms of content but most insidiously it will replace the news program with what Americans call info-mercials. This process has already begun with unacknowledged commercial and political video news releases peppering "news" programs. Hugh Cumper

Dan: This is happening already, at least the "product placement" part of it, where products show up in movies and TV shows. And it's definitely insidious. The use by TV "news" shows of video press releases without identifying them as such is a violation of trust with the audience, and I hope in the end it is punished with loss of viewers.

Public good

Reader: Dan wrote: "What if we're in for a decade or two of decline in the watchdog journalism that takes deep pockets and a civic commitment to produce?" We will not see much difference, unless you happen to be talking about Private Eye. Most of us don't see journalists as protecting the public good or having a civic commitment - quite the opposite in fact or we wouldn't see so much celebrity marketing tat being produced. Maurice Milligan, Bangor, NI

Dan: I wouldn't miss the celebrity garbage, either. But I fear the day when we might not have a New York Times to tell us of illegal spying on citizens, or a Sunday Times (London) to tell us of the Downing Street memo, or a Washington Post to tell us that our government is running secret prisons around the world.

When governments refuse to investigate themselves -- and go out of their way to hide their mistakes (and worse) -- we need serious journalism more than ever.

Paper chase

Reader: Organisations that produce newspapers have an enormous head start over any new entrants because they have the skills and networks needed to provide the content. The challenge for existing media organisations and new entrants alike is in developing revenue from the web, either from subscription, sponsorship or advertising. The revenue streams may be smaller, but the distribution costs for electronic news are orders of magnitude smaller than using dead trees. Keith Dowsett, London

Dan: I agree that traditional news organizations have a built-in advantage, but they have moved with remarkable slowness. What I don't know is whether the online revenues will reach the levels that support the journalism soon enough to make up for what will be lost on the print side, even with the potential savings. The early numbers aren't encouraging.

The overheads of print media mean that they are under greater commercial pressure than on-line media. On-line you can take the commercial risk of doing deep journalism.
Corin, London

Delivery boys

Reader: Perhaps journalism is not dying, but the business model that supports it just needs to adapt to new methods of information delivery. For example, what about turning journalistic information into a raw commodity and selling it piecemeal just as iTunes permits music lovers to buy one good song instead of a whole crummy album? It's a rare publication that gets read cover-to-cover so why not adapt journalism to a pay-as-you-go business model that eschews the idea of the "publication"? Andrew Robulack, Whitehorse, YT

Dan: This kind of thing will certainly occur, and already does in a sense with freelance sales to publications. But there's scant evidence that people want to pay a la carte for individual articles or broadcast programs. The billing issues are difficult, for one thing, and most people seem to prefer a bundle, not a piecemeal approach.

Money maker

Reader: I'm a newspaper reporter and in four months I'm going to study medicine. I probably would stay in newspapers were in not for the fact that the pay is awful and getting worse all the time. The media companies exist these days to make money - no other reason believe me. The editors and reporters might have different aspirations but the owners want the cash and they dictate the budget. It's a shame because newspapers can play a positive role in society whatever anyone thinks. David, london

Dan: We will miss people like you.

Cash flow

Reader: Advertising money for journalism will flow towards the most original and attractive manifestation of talent, as in other creative businesses like film, music, etc. If the quality of the writing and analysis is as high as this piece by Dan Gillmor, the "citizen journalists" will find it hard to attract advertising money. David McDowell, Lockerbie

Dan: Perhaps, but if the advertising money flows most of all toward sites that do nothing but advertising, where does that leave journalism. (Incidentally, one of the first things a beginning journalist is taught is to ensure that names are spelled correctly.)

Conduct unbecoming

Reader: With the demise of the "news room", I think journalists need a trade organization that provides a "stamp of authenticity" and upholds standards of conduct for journalists, and which provides a web portal for them. Then each (now independent) journalist gets paid from the web ads on their news articles. Each one is its own newspaper. The trade group can provide dynamic grouping capabilities for larger projects. One more step in the further decentralization of "news". Craig, Silly-con Valley

Clocks in BBC newsroom, BBC
Newsrooms could become a thing of the past
Dan: I'd call this re-aggregation after disaggregation, just with a new middleman. I agree, though, that some journalists are becoming brands of their own, independently of their employers' brands.

Think piece Reader: The article on the decline of revenues for newspapers was very thoughtful and well written. Now we need the next step: articles on the new business model for journalism! Kim Harnack, McLean, Virginia, USA

Dan: Lots of smart folks are working on it. I hope they're smarter than I am, because I haven't seen an obvious solution yet.

Spin city

Reader: Dan Gilmour makes an incorrect assumption: That newspapers altruistically produce "pure" journalism that creates "well informed citizens". History shows that most print media is spin and gossip. Even well intentioned "news analysis" is often badly researched opinion. The overheads of print media mean that they are under greater commercial pressure (and hence conflict of interest) than on-line media. On-line you can take the commercial risk of doing deep journalism. Corin, London

Dan: I don't minimize the flaws of traditional media. But I don't want to exaggerate them, either.

Barons caught

Reader: The demise of journalism will, if it happens, also bring about the demise of the media baron. That will provide considerable compensation for the loss. Simon Richardson, London, UK

Dan: I wonder if we'll someday be nostalgic for the baronies...

Balancing act

Reader: My greatest fear is that blogging, which is currently providing a badly needed injection of fresh air into public debate, will only too soon go the way of print journalism and the US mass media: vetted by the wealthy and powerful for "inappropriate" content. So it's not "balanced". So what? David Ballantyne, Raleigh, NC, USA

Dan: The barrier to entry is zero, or close to it. So I'm not worried that corporate interests will take over the new media.

Edge fund

Reader: I and many people I know would be more than happy to pay a yearly sum to read our favourite journalists online. One of my favourite journalists, I have often wished he had somewhere I could donate online to assist him in his endeavours. Pamela Law, New Zealand

Dan: You may get your wish sooner than later. Patronage and subscriptions may become a preferred revenue model.

Dan Gillmor is author of We the Media, a book about technology and the development of grassroots journalism. He is also director of the Centre for Citizen Media.

Dan is writing a series of columns for the BBC News website.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Blog software comparison chart

blog from prison.

On May 10, Alaa Ahmed Seif al-Islam, the award-winning blogger detained three days earlier for participating in peaceful protests in Cairo, became one of the first people to blog from prison.

“Today it hit me,” Alaa began his post, “I am really in prison. I’m not sure how I feel…The way fellow prisoners look at me tells me I do not feel well but I can’t really feel it.”

Thanks in part to an energetic campaign in the Egyptian, Arab, and international blogosphere, his detention has already helped call attention to the Egyptian government’s recent crackdown on dissent. Soon after Alaa’s detention, a handful of bloggers from around the world began a group blog dedicated to campaigning for his release. Andy Carvin, a Massachussets-based blogger created a video urging bloggers to participate in a “Google-bombingcampaign to associate Alaa’s name with “Egypt” in Google’s databases. Others began work on a Wikipedia page on Alaa. Shohdy Naguib Sorour—in exile in Russia since 2002, when he became the first Egyptian to face prosecution for his online activities—urged Russian bloggers to get involved. Sandmonkey started a successful online petition (and found he was getting a lot of online visits from the Egyptian government thereafter).

The international press penned stories. International rights groups Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch issued statements. People gathered for protests in front of Egyptian consulates in big American cities. Meanwhile, the comments on Manalaa.net, the blog Alaa and his wife Manal maintain, continue to show an outpouring of support from within Egypt and around the world.

Sandmonkey, referring to a few of the international posts seemed astounded by the response from the “one blogging world:”

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Award-Winning Blogger Among New Arrests

via Virtually Islamic
Award-Winning Blogger Among New Arrests

Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC)
May 10, 2006
Posted to the web May 10, 2006

Egyptian security officials arrested 11 more political reform activists, including an award-winning blogger, Alaa Ahmed Seif al-Islam, Human Rights Watch said today. This brings to more than 100 the number of people detained over the past two weeks for exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and expression.

Approximately half of those arrested are members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were putting up posters and distributing leaflets protesting the April 30 extension of emergency rule for another two years. The Emergency Law has been in effect since President Hosni Mubarak came to power in October 1981. The others were detained for demonstrating in support of a group of judges campaigning for greater judicial independence.

"These new arrests indicate that President Mubarak intends to silence all peaceful opposition," said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division.

The latest arrests occurred on May 7 near the South Cairo Court where activists arrested on April 24 were scheduled to appear before a judge. Police released three of the 11 new detainees, but transferred the remaining eight to the Heliopolis state security prosecutor, who extended their detention for 15 days. The eight detained are: Ahmed 'Abd al-Gawad, Ahmed 'Abd al-Ghaffar, Alaa Ahmed Seif al-Islam, Asma'a 'Ali, Fadi Iskandar, Karim al-Sha'ir, Nada al-Qassas and Rasha Azab.

On May 8, authorities extended for another 15 days the detention of a dozen activists arrested on April 24. They initially faced charges of blocking traffic, but the authorities later transferred their cases to state security prosecutors. Yesterday, authorities extended the detention of 28 activists arrested on April 26 and 27 for another 15 days. All those arrested between April 24 and May 7 for demonstrating now face charges of "insulting the president," "spreading false rumors," and "disturbing public order" under the parallel state security legal system set up under the Emergency Law.

According to a statement published on an activist Web site, activists detained between April 24 and 27 have begun a hunger strike to protest prison conditions, including threats of torture and ill-treatment.

"The activists detained over the past two weeks should be released immediately, unharmed," Stork said. "The Egyptian government is responsible under international law for their safety."

The campaign of judges for greater judicial independence has become a rallying point for political reform activists. The Judges' Club, the quasi-official professional organization for members of the judiciary, refused to certify the results of last year's parliamentary elections after more than 100 of the judges reported irregularities at polling stations. In February, the government-controlled Supreme Judicial Council stripped four of the most vocal judges of their judicial immunity.

For the names of demonstrators detained prior to May 7, please see: http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2006/05/06/egypt13319.htm

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Net censorship spreads worldwide

y Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent, BBC News website

Net cafe in China, AP
The report names China as the most active net censor
Repressive regimes are taking full advantage of the net's ability to censor and stifle reform and debate, reveals a report.

Written by the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) pressure group the report highlights the ways governments threaten the freedom of the press.

The report has a section dedicated to the internet and the growing roster of nations censoring online life.

This censorship is practised on every continent on Earth, said the report.

Power play

Although the internet is changing the way the media works as blogs, chat forums and social networking sites turn passive consumers into active critics, it is not just citizens who are taking advantage of its technological power warned the report.

Julien Pain - who heads the internet freedom desk at the RSF and was one of the report's authors, noted: "Everyone's interested in the internet - especially dictators".

Mr Pain said the world's dictators have not remained powerless in the face of the explosion of online content. By contrast, many have been "efficient and inventive" in using the net to spy on citizens and censor debate.

Most computers will open PDF documents automatically, but you may need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader.

In many nations, the net used to be the only uncensored outlet and the place people turned to for news they would never hear about through official channels.

However, noted the report, governments have woken up to the fact that the people they regard as dissidents are active online. Many are now moving to censor blogs and the last year has seen many committed bloggers jailed for what they said in their online journal.

For instance, in Iran Mojtaba Saminejad has been in jail since February 2005 for putting online material ruled offensive to Islam.

China was the nation that came in for most criticism for its efforts to monitor and censor the net. The RSF noted that net censorship in the country had undergone a significant shift in the last two years.

Originally, said the report, China was only interested in monitoring political dissidence on the net. Now its scrutiny covers general unrest in its population - ironically something that has grown because the net makes it easier for people to communicate.

Jail term

China's success at censorship means it has effectively produced a "sanitised" version of the internet for its 130 million citizens that regularly go online.

Google China website, AFP/Getty
Western firms have been criticised for their helping filter the net
The wide-ranging scrutiny also means that it is the biggest jailer of so-called cyber dissidents. RSF estimates that 62 people in China have been jailed for what they said online.

Net users have also been jailed in Egypt, Iran, Libya, the Maldives, Syria, Tunisia and Vietnam.

Where China has led, other nations are following and taking active steps to filter the net before it gets to their citizens. Zimbabwe is reportedly buying technology directly from China to beef up its censorship efforts.

Many other nations, including Burma, Cuba, Iran, Libya, Nepal, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam censor the net. Often this filtering involves stopping access to some types of sites, such as those showing pornography, but it can also involve blocking sites critical of governments or religions.

Some nations, such as Turkmenistan, have banned home net connections and restrict people to using net cafes which, said the RSF, were much easier to control. Burma has banned web e-mail systems such as Hotmail and Yahoo mail and every five minutes screen grabs are taken of what people are looking at in net cafes.

But criticism of the obstacles put before open net access was not limited to nations known for their repressive policies. The European Union was criticised too for its policy of leaving the decision on which sites to censor up to net service firms. This, said the RSF, created a "private system of justice" in which technicians take the place of a judge.

The 153-page report also criticised Western firms for selling technology to repressive regimes to help them monitor what people do online.

The report was produced to mark World Press Freedom Day.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Blogs making their impact felt

Blogs making their impact felt
The impact of blogging has reached a tipping point, argues Julian Smith, senior analyst at Jupiter Research.

We Media conference bloggers
This week's We Media forum was covered by the blogs
Anyone studying the media over the last few months might have noticed a sudden increase in concern about the growth of consumer-created content and the impact of blogging on business.

In December 2005, a white paper on the influence of bloggers on corporate reputation by Market Sentinel, Onalytica and Immediate Future highlighted the negative impact one individual, Jeff Jarvis, could have on a brand's reputation, in this case Dell, through angry blog postings about his bad customer experience.

In April this year, Custom Communications laid on a first of its kind event on Blogging4Business to discuss how this burgeoning micro-publishing practice can potentially damage a brand.

In May, traditional news producers, aggregators and distributors gathered at the We Media global forum to debate the future of news in light of the growth of blogging and citizen journalism.

Even the BBC is being forced to address this emerging trend for consumer online self-expression.

It recently announced that it is to restructure its content provision and update its online offerings to enable greater consumer content-contribution and participation - led by a competition to redesign and re-imagine the bbc.co.uk homepage.

Two-way channel

What has spurred this debate now? Why has the issue of consumers' increased ability to create and publish their own content suddenly come under the spotlight?

As the web crosses over from its 1.0 to 2.0 incarnation, consumers, especially the connected young generation, are being imbued with new powers
Put simply, it is because the internet, enabled by a rapid switch to broadband, has recently reached a tipping point in its evolutionary path.

It has moved, relatively quickly, from a predominantly one-way, read-only medium to a more two-way, participatory, collaborative and interconnected medium.

This is reflected in the growing popularity of sites like MySpace.com, Wikipedia, Flickr and blogging platforms such as Blogger.com or Livejournal.com.

With this has come a shift in the balance of power between consumer and provider, whether it be of content, products or services.

As the web crosses over from its 1.0 to 2.0 incarnation, consumers, especially the connected young generation, are being imbued with new powers.

Not only do they now have the ability to post their self-expression in a public forum but also they have the ability to access and sift through an abundance of easily accessible information, customise their consumption and gain satisfaction on-demand.

This is making them more informed, more savvy and more in control. As a result, media and marketing businesses, and governments for that matter, have to forge new and more equitable relationships with their audiences.

From consumer to producer

With the adoption of content-creation tools democratising the publishing of information and the parallel growth in search engine usage democratising access to this information, consumers are increasingly being exposed to informal, peer-produced content, alongside formal, professionally created content.

BBC boss Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson wants to reboot the BBC's web presence
For marketers, this has the potential to significantly impact brand communications if consumer content refers to experiences with products or services that are incongruous and misaligned with official marketing messages.

When a company's marketing story differs from the one being told by online consumers, a credibility gap will emerge that could have dire consequences on brand perception and favourability.

For news providers, the ability of consumers to post their own stories and commentaries on events affect their ability to act as a go-to source of up-to-date information.

While unprompted online content contributors, such as bloggers, chat room participants and discussion board posters, remain a minority online at present, their prominence and influence is in the ascendance as the web evolves.

This is why there is a growing buzz about consumer-created content in the industry at present and why businesses need to start considering how they might find opportunities for their business and mitigate the threats of this shifting balance of power.

My Google Profile