Reflection on PUB802

** To organize this post I will be referring to PUB802’s learning objectives. After each main idea, I write [in square brackets] what learning objective it’s related to **
  1. To whet your appetite for thinking about the role and effects of digital technologies, especially as it relates to the content we consume
  2. To help you develop a framework to analyze and interpret technology-related events and trends
  3. To better understand (but not necessarily fully comprehend) how different technologies work
  4. Give you practical experience with three digital publishing tools and formats: blogging (WordPress), wikis (Wikipedia) and annotations (Hypothes.is)
  5. Allow you to develop and express your own thoughts about various aspects of technology.

For the past few years, I’ve become hyper-aware of how much technology influences my life. I see myself and people around me dealing with phone addictions, going on social media detoxes, using tech for entertainment, for learning, for connecting, buying the latest Alexa, learning to code, etc, etc.  At least once a day I see an article or a TED Talk on my newsfeed about how technology is changing our mental and physical behavior. How it’s destroying humanity. How it’s empowering humanity. When a new feature is introduced on our gadgets, the immediate reaction seems to be “Woah! that’s magic!”.  It’s part of our everyday life, we wake up to it and go to bed with it, and yet it shocks me how little I understand it.
Therefore, I was pretty excited about PUB802 because I wanted to have tech demystified for me. To be totally honest, I wanted to learn all the nitty gritty details about how everything worked and some basic coding skills…this is probably because I enjoy learning how things work in a technical sense. But the course was more realistic in scope, and was more about thinking about tech in a  philosophical way and about the social and political implications of tech. I can now admit that this is probably more important to think about as we enter into our own publishing careers. However, some of the top highlights from the course for me was Juan’s brief mini-lessons on how the internet worked (Week 2), how data encryption worked (Week 8), and what XML and Pandoc are (Week 5). The technical aspects interest me and the course has spiked my interest more and allowed me to go do more reading on how things work and to teach myself some code.
[Learning Objective 1, 3]
**

The in-class discussions were my favorite part of the course. It always felt very conversational. I was able to listen to different opinions, develop my own ideas and share them in a coherent manner. It forced me to reflect and also dig deeper into my opinions. Some weeks were more challenging for me than others in terms of discussing topics as I felt a lot of points were brought up on Hypothes.is nonetheless, in-class discussions were always fruitful. I also learned that I don’t always have to hold one opinion or the other. The biggest takeaway from the discussions was that these topics such as copyright and data privacy are very complicated and there is no right or wrong answer. Which leads me to my favourite weektopics were:

  • Week 6: Copyright and Fair Use
    • learning about remix culture and the copyright implications of it and net neutrality were two very new topics I never knew about. I think as future publishers it’s super important to understand this
    • the blog prompt for this week was challenging but rewarding. Wrapping my head around fair use factors and applying it to a case study was a great exercise
  • Week 4 and 5: Internet Business Models
    • I’m grouping these two weeks together because for me they were less about the particular business models we talked about (Medium, Patreon, etc) but about thinking of the internet and the web as a business in general. I’ve always thought about the web as this place for free knowledge and entertainment, but this week shaped a more realistic picture.
    • I enjoyed writing my blog post for week 5 because I looked into how many different types of business models there were for the web (a lot!) and how different people and businesses utilize these strategies to make a living. As someone who wants to help creators showcase their work in a digital space, the ideas from these two weeks were valuable!
    • This week also felt the most optimistic in terms of how people use the web because we learned about peer-to-peer networks and platform cooperatives.

Though these two weeks were the most novel to me, I learned something new every single week such as Facebook’s shadow profiles, what data is being collected from us (answer: EVERYTHING), thinking about the web as a space, the switch from open web to platform based, AI’s role in publishing, and pros and cons of digital reading. This list can go on and on. The readings and discussions were engaging and I would even bring home certain ideas and discuss them with my housemates! I am now comfortable talking about metadata, ebooks, data privacy, etc.

Hypothes.is also played a huge role in allowing me to think critically about the readings and spend time digging deeper into the topics. For example, due to the comments, I was able to learn about things like Web 3.0  and watch a TED Talk about new trends in dealing with data (I can’t link to it because that Hypothes.is comment by Melody disappeared).
[Learning Objective 1, 2, 3, 5]

**
In terms of using publishing tools and formats, I believe the Wikipedia assignment was the most beneficial. I agree with the cohort that writing a Wikipedia article was challenging, however, learning how to do it and running through the modules was very inspiring! I noticed around the city that there are Wikipedia edit-a-thons (Art+ Feminism, Indigenous Writers). Now that I know how to do it, I’d love to attend future events such as these. I think it’s a really important thing to do and I want to contribute more to public knowledge. I’ve also noticed that now I’m a more critical reader of Wikipedia articles and have caught quite a few missing citations and biased information.
 [Learning Objective 4]
**

Future learning and course recommendations

Overall I think this course has allowed me to gain foundational knowledge on technology and how it relates to publishing. It has also taught me how to read articles, blog posts, and various other content about tech – it doesn’t seem so scary or mystical anymore. Even within our cohort, I can see that we’ve all developed interest in the topics in the course and when we find links about tech and publishing we share them with each other. For example, last week Charlotte shared Apple’s announcement about starting a magazine publication and Steph shared a link about Medium looking for partners to launch new publications.
In terms of course recommendations, I (and many others in the cohort) found that writing a blog post every week to be challenging. It required a lot more research and effort than what we expected. I agree that in some weeks it led to many interesting insights and deepened my knowledge of the topics, however in other weeks I felt the blog posts to be repetitive to the in-class discussion and I didn’t feel like I added anything new to the conversation. My recommendation would be to allow students to perhaps choose three or four topics that they’d be interested in and write blog posts about that.
Another recommendation is that I think basic coding knowledge would be invaluable and very practical for us as we enter into publishing. Having some weeks that are workshop days, where we learn HTML, CSS, and perhaps basic Javascript would have been very beneficial.
Other than that, it was a very enjoyable course and it’s definitely changed the way I think about technology. It’s made it less ‘magical’. There are real humans behind the technology we use, making real decisions that can impact how we use it. Understanding this is important because now I can critique it, fight against it, or support it.

Disengagement Data

Data analytics. Data-driven. Big data. Data mining.  Data, data, data. It’s the buzz-word these days in the publishing industry. And for good reason. All our data is being collected – regardless of we’re aware of it or not. Whether it’s through the big three: Facebook, Amazon, Google, or just by loyalty cards at your grocery store or apps to track your fitness. In the Canadian book market, BookNet helps the industry by giving publishers consumer data, metadata from other publishers, and more. It would be silly for a publisher to not capitalize on this wealth of information to try to sell more books and try to survive in a tough market like books.

There’s so much data to scan through and collect. It’s important to identify what exactly would be beneficial for you as a publisher and how you can use that data to improve your services. Personally, if I was a publisher I would want disengagement data. Specifically, I would want data telling me what sections of the text the reader started to disengage. I think this would be an especially useful tool to have in education publishing.

Educational publishers provide students with textbooks, course packs, non-fiction books, educational picture books, etc. If I could get data on when students start to lose focus, skim over passages, get frustrated, or simply lose interest, I could then hopefully make the learning experience much better.  The process of taking complex subjects and translating it to a lay audience can be quite challenging. I saw this issue time and time again in my undergraduate lectures. I had super smart professors that were highly specialized in their fields, however, when it came to deconstructing the material to explain to students in a simple manner, many of them did not do a good job. We would leave lectures feeling confused and frustrated. We would then to turn to textbooks or other reading material that would also fail to help us understand. Sometimes professors can’t be helped. But I think books can be improved – especially because there’s a team of people working on them.

Knowing disengagement data can help publishers, editors, and writers improve their work. In future editions, visuals can be added, paragraphs can be rewritten, chapters can be restructured, supplemental resources can be offered.  This data can also be offered to educators who can see where students are losing touch, and lesson plans can be modified to address these issues. I’m a big believer in that anyone can learn anything if it’s taught properly. Over the past year, I’ve heard many of my peers say they hate numbers or they’re not good at math. I don’t buy it. I think everyone could be good at math. They just need the right learning tools and methods that are suitable for them.

To collect this data in a non-intrusive way I think the most straight forward way would be to ask students. When they buy a textbook or a digital textbook, perhaps they are given the option to highlight or mark up pages or passages that are confusing to them. They can offer suggestions of what other things they’d like to see – maybe more definitions, maybe more diagrams. This would make the learning process more dynamic as well instead of in a one-way direction from teacher/book to student.

The other option would be to tell students they’re tracking their learning process as they go through the book. For example, a digital e-book can inform students at the beginning that their reading process is being monitored and explaining why. Students can then have a choice to opt-out. Offering perks (like a $50 Starbucks card) may motivate students to opt in.

Though I make this sound easy, I’m aware of all the challenges that can arise. It’s expensive to collect your own data… to have the tools and means to do so. Knowing exactly why students disengage can be quite challenging to understand. It can be due to personal learning challenges, it may have to do with their personal history with the topic at hand (maybe they had an awful math teacher that scarred them for life and now they can’t look at a math textbook without puking). The technology might not be there yet either.

Overall, I’m in the opinion that education is the key to most things in life. If there was a way to make teaching tools better, I would jump at the opportunity – while being respectful of peope’s privacy and information.

 

The perfect world of metadata and all the diverse things it can lead to

Perfect, high quality, complete metadata. Sounds like the modern publisher’s dream. I’ll focus on what my perfect metadata world would look like with a focus on diversity.

Diversity in content being discovered 

I can see complete metadata allowing more diverse content becoming searchable and discoverable. If publishers or a metadata “inputter” took the time to put in the correct keywords and tags that are related and respectful of the text, I think more books and other media can be discovered and accessed.  This is obvious and important.

However, I believe with greater access and discoverability comes greater responsibility. As material becomes highly discoverable and spread around, there may be cases where the text is being misused or not understood in the right context. Some texts circulating outside of a certain community or group of people may not be used as was originally intended. If our perfect, high quality, complete metadata has taken this into consideration, systems would be put in place so that if texts need to be used or read in a certain way, the metadata will tell you. The example that comes to mind is the Traditional Knowledge (TK) Labels. Below is a quote about what it is:

“The TK Labels are a tool for Indigenous communities to add existing local protocols for access and use to recorded cultural heritage that is digitally circulating outside community contexts. The TK Labels offer an educative and informational strategy to help non-community users of this cultural heritage understand its importance and significance to the communities from where it derives and continues to have meaning”

I believe such labeling systems must be incorporated into metadata so that we can prevent books and other media that we’re not familiar with from being misused. Here are some examples of the TK Labels:

Diversity in metadata formats 

Some may say that the perfect, complete, high-quality metadata might follow a universal structure. This might be an unpopular opinion but I don’t know if metadata should be in a universal format. My world would have many different metadata formats. The easiest analogy I can think of this explain my reasoning is the metric system, the imperial system, and various other measuring systems that are not so common. Many people argue for a universal metric system…however this may not necessarily better or a useful solution. My housemate, a math teacher,  was telling me about his experiences living in Thailand and learning traditional weaving from a group of indigenous Thai women. He learned they had their own form of measuring and math that suited their needs and was appropriate for them. It bared no resemblance to the metric or imperial system…which would have been completely useless to them.

I might be taking the analogy too far, but I see the same thing occurring in the publishing world. Based on the publisher’s content a universal metadata format (like subject category schemes such as THEMA or BISAC)  might not work for them. For example, if you’re a publisher that is focusing their work on a certain group of people or interest and the differences in content are very clear for you, you may want a metadata system that fits and that can categorize based on the content. This type of cataloging might be missed or ignored in a more universal system and your diverse books may be lumped into one group. Perhaps, if a universal system like THEMA can put systems in place to achieve such diversity, then maybe it can work. (Apparently, they are according to this Booknet article. In April 2018, a version 1.3 of THEMA included 260 new subject categories and 150 new qualifiers.)

Diversity in monetization 

I might be stretching it with these “diversity in” headings but this is the last one, I promise. Another thing I can envision with perfect, complete, and high-quality metadata is the different things within a published work that can then be monetized. For example, in this Publisher’s Weekly article from 2018, it states that an Indian publishing service called Lumina Datamatics is working with the scholarly publisher Wiley to “use metadata to string together disparate strands of content to create new assets”. Wiley’s published works have good metadata attached to each, and so Lumina can easily discover and pull things like visual content (figures, diagrams, graphs) from academic papers to then make available and sell separately. It creates a new source of income for Wiley. Having spent thousands of dollars on Wiley textbooks and resources during my undergrad, I’m a bit bitter about this and not very supportive of Wiley’s new venture…but I can see how this would be a useful thing to do as a small publisher strapped for cash.

 

Conclusion

I think the world of perfect, high-quality, complete metadata is very enticing and alluring. I believe it’ll lead to a lot of benefits such as diverse material being discovered and new assets being formed. However, it does come with more challenges that need to be considered as we move forward with optimizing and encouraging metadata input.

Facebook’s new privacy plan might not actually be helping us out

This week Mark Zuckerberg announced on his blog a new vision for Facebook, social media, and the web.  He wants to build a messaging platform that’s privacy-focused. He dives into the seven principles he wants to enforce: private interactions, encryption, reducing permanence, safety, interoperability, and secure data storage. He compares this space to a ‘private living room’ compared to the ‘town square’ approach to social media.

The Guardian response to Zuckerberg’s post illuminates that this would be done by integrating the messaging systems of Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger.

I think there are two problems with this:

  1. Integration
    I can see the appeal of integrating the different messaging systems into an all-in-one platform. You don’t have to waste time checking multiple apps, you won’t have to worry about which platform to message a friend, etc.   Personally, I would find this annoying as I use these apps for various purposes and check them at differing regularity. I don’t necessarily want the be seeing messages all the time from the various different networks of these apps.However, aside from my personal views,  I think this new move allows Facebook to be an even more powerful factor in our lives. It wants to curate and shape our living room / private space as well. Not only that there are still problems that can occur in these so-called “private spaces”. For example, India will be having it’s presidential elections this year and it’s been dubbed the “Whatsapp elections”. Whatsapp is highly popular in India, and political parties have been recruiting these “cell phone volunteers” to create neighborhood Whatsapp groups to spread biased information around. The same issue with Facebook and the spread of misinformation can still occur on private messaging platforms like Whatsapp. According to the news article “The misuse of WhatsApp has been connected with at least 30 incidents of murder and lynching, for example following the circulation of children abduction rumors.”
  2. Ignoring the original problem 
    In his blog, Zuckerberg starts off his piece by saying:

    “Over the last 15 years, Facebook and Instagram have helped people connect with friends, communities, and interests in the digital equivalent of a town square. But people increasingly also want to connect privately in the digital equivalent of the living room.”

    Sure, we want that! But judging from the reaction of the Cambridge Analytica scandal what people really want is their private data not to be sold to advertisers without our informed consent. It seems like Zuckerberg is ignoring the problem (or perhaps just trying to shift our focus) of Facebook’s data-surveillance business model and trying to grow and expand his already massive business by implementing a new platform. Data that was supposed to be only shared with our friends and family and people we chose to be on our Friends List was sold to third-party advertisers. How is creating a private messaging system going to solve that issue?

    Facebook is not getting rid of the newsfeed… which I don’t think people want anyway. I think we still want to share things to a wide range of people. We just don’t want Facebook sharing our private data from our private profiles and from our apps. For example, Sophie shared an article with us about how apps like a menstrual-cycle tracking app and a heart rate app are sharing the data with Facebook who in turn sells this information to advertisers.  We don’t want to stop using these apps – they can be really useful tools. We just don’t want it being shared without informed consent.

Overall, I think Mark Zuckerberg is not addressing the problem the public is criticizing him with and instead introducing new growth models for Facebook. I’m not sure if we’re gaining anything from this new policy move. Zuckerberg is obviously a smart guy. My personal thoughts are that he’s very aware of our growing fear around sharing information in public spaces now. He might also be forecasting a decline in using public spaces like Facebook and Instagram as more and more of the public gets to understand the data privacy issues. Therefore to keep his business growing, he’s trying to expand his services into the private communication sphere because until we become telepathic we’re still very much dependent on communicating with one another through technology.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Fair Use Factors

(I apologize for my lame title. I tried though)

Happy Fair Use/Fair Dealing Week! Okay, I guess it was last week but it’s always a good time to talk about fair use and fair dealing! Stanford University has an awesome overview of fair use and the four factors that govern fair use . The interesting thing about fair use is that it can only truly be determined by a judge in court. If the owner of the original work (the copyright owner) doesn’t agree with how you’ve used their work, only a judge can rule if it follows fair use guidelines or not. It’s a case by case issue and is usually pretty subjective. Standford also provides some interesting overviews of some fair use cases over the years. The one I’d like to dive into today is the famous Harry Potter Lexicon case (Warner Brothers Entertainment vs RDR Books).

A little overview 

This Guardian article does a great job of giving a detailed summary of the case but I’ll do a little overview as well with some personal notes.

Back in 1999, a  Harry Potter (HP) fan by the name of Steven Vander Ark created an online fan site called the Harry Potter Lexicon. I remember using this lexicon when I was reading the books to refresh myself on certain characters or spells and when I was part of another Harry Potter fan club online, I would use the Lexicon quite often as a reference site. The HP Lexicon is quite comprehensive, has a large community, and now has 700+ pages.

In 2007, Vander Ark signed a book deal with RDR Books (a small press in Michigan) to publish a part of the Lexicon. This resulted in J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers taking RDR books to court, and the judge ruled the Lexicon to be not fair use. This is the Stanford site’s summary on the case:

“Not a fair use. Although the creation of a Harry Potter encyclopedia was determined to be “slightly transformative” (because it made the Harry Potter terms and lexicons available in one volume), this transformative quality was not enough to justify a fair use defense. Important factors: An important factor in the court’s decision was the extensive verbatim use of text from the Harry Potter books. (Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. v. RDR Books, 575 F.Supp.2d 513 (S.D. N.Y. 2008).)”

However, in 2009 Vander Ark was allowed to publish a different version of his Lexicon that addressed some of Rowling’s grievances in court. It seems like he edited out direct passages from the original HP books and added more of his personal commentary on it.

My opinions

First a  question though… why was Warner Brothers involved in this? The Lexicon only deals with the HP books and not the movies. That’s one of the ways they differentiate themselves from the Harry Potter Wiki. I couldn’t really find an answer to this, so I’m guessing it’s because Warner Brothers has rights to the Harry Potter franchise as a whole so this case would affect them as well.

So how do I feel about this? As with most of the fair use cases, I have mixed feelings.

It bothers me that the Lexicon became an issue only when the Vander Ark decided to publish it into a book and try to make some money off it. In the Guardian article, it states that before the lawsuit, the site was continuously praised by Rowling herself and even her publishers sent the Lexicon thank you letters for the good work they were doing.  As soon as it was going to be a monetary thing, views changed. I think this was a little unfair for fans who love a work so much but also want to generate some income for the hard effort they put into their fan-work. The Lexicon isn’t going to take away any sales from the Harry Potter books themselves. In fact, I doubt anyone will even buy the Lexicon without buying or reading Harry Potter first.

Factor four of fair use looks at “the effect of the use upon the potential market”. It looks at whether the work “deprives the copyright owner of income or undermines a new or potential market for the copyrighted work.” I do not think the Lexicon will deprive Rowling of income. In fact, it directly contributes to her sales of more books! However, I do see that Rowling has every right to create her own encyclopedia/reference book of her own world. And I do understand that if Rowling was a smaller, less famous author…someone else creating a reference book could potentially take away from profits that could have been generated by the original creator themselves.

However, I appreciated that the court recognized the importance of reference and guide books – I personally could not have gotten through high school English without reference guides to Shakespeare and Ulysses. This was one of the statements after the Lexicon case:

“We are encouraged by the fact that the Court recognized that as a general matter authors do not have the right to stop the publication of reference guides and companion books about literary works.”

I’m glad the court allowed Vander Ark to publish a different version of the Lexicon. I think that was a fair ruling. It is still strange to me though that the site is allowed to stay up and remain unchanged. I think this is a weird double standard that remains when it comes to what’s allowed on the web and what’s allowed in print that. This issue will only become more and more pertinent as we continue publishing things that have originally been found online (such as webcomics and fanfiction).

Overall, I have mixed feelings about this case. It seems like Vander Ark still remains a huge Rowling and Harry Potter fan and the site is still running and providing fans with information as well, and that is still important!

Tailoring the internet business model

Internet business models come in many different forms and styles. However, over the years there have been some business models for businesses and creators producing content that has seen undeniable success. The traditional model used to be ad-based revenue. This was based on print magazine and newspaper publishing which is dependent on ads. However, with the rise of ad-blockers and inefficient online ad campaigns, we have been forced to come up with some other means of basing our online businesses. There has been the rise of subscription-based business models such as Netflix and Medium. With the rise in Kickstarter and Patreon, donor-based business models have also been trending.

When business models become dominant, it’s tempting for many businesses and creators to join the bandwagon and make it work for themselves. Sometimes this does not work. For example, many creators have been lamenting about the pitfalls of creators and businesses using a donor-based business model.  Within the publishing industry, people have been wondering if there can be a publishing version of Netflix and Spotify. Though some publishers such as Kindle Unlimited is making it work, the kinks of subscription services for ebooks and audiobooks are still being worked out. Using a dominant business model doesn’t always work and I think it’s important to really tailor these business models to suit your consumers and your own business. I’d like to point out some examples.

Scribd and its attempt to use the subscription model

Scribd, an online publishing platform that includes ebooks and audiobooks, tried to be the “Netflix” of books a few years back in 2013. It followed the subscription model, however, they discontinued it in 2016 because it wasn’t working financially. They found that a small portion of their readers (primarily romance readers) were reading too many books a month (sometimes a hundred books a month). This was costing them too much. Unlike Netflix where Netflix licenses the rights to stream a movie for an unlimited number of times, Scribd pays publishers every time a book is read (a ‘per-read basis’). The subscription model just didn’t make sense for their ebook business.

Scribd switched to a credit-based model similar to Audible where with a monthly fee, you get 1 credit which gets you 1 free audiobook and then member discounts for books you have to purchase. This model helped them get back on track financially, however, in early 2018,  Scribd announced it was going back to a subscription-based model but this time with some limitations. It wasn’t going to be truly unlimited reading…they would cap certain readers every month if they saw they were accessing material at a very fast pace. Though I scoffed at this when I first learned about it, I now see that Scribd learned from its mistakes and tailored a popular business model – the subscription service – to work with the underlying publishing industry and consumer demand. It’s not perfect, but it’s working for them.

The Guardian and a blend of donors, ads, and sponsored content 

The Guardian online was working on a ad-based revenue system. But with the rise in adblockers they switched to a donor-based model as well. After many of the articles, there’s a call to make a one-time payment or becoming a monthly donor. Switching to a donor-based model worked for them and now they have over 500,000 regularly paying readers. They didn’t put their entire website behind a paywall or get rid of all ads but they blended in some other business models to work for their readers. There’s also promoted stories at the bottom of each article that also helps their profits. The Guardian can still keep providing quality for free with just a slight change in their business model. Their call to donate is also friendly and honest in my opinion.

 

I think the biggest challenge of dominant business models is looking at them and seeing if they can work for you or tailoring these new ideas to make it work. This can be tricky but some pretty creative solutions can come out from it. As Stephanie mentioned in her blog post this week, diversity in business models is very important. Just doing a quick Google search of “Internet Business Models” I am reminded that there are so many out there! We don’t have to just look at the dominant ones and make it fit our business.  there are so many different types of business models to choose from, mix and match from, and build off of.

From boardofinnovation.com, here’s 23 different kinds!:

Specifically for us, as creators and publishers, I think we have to always be thinking outside the box but also understanding what our readers (or viewers, listeners, users, etc) want. During Emerging Leaders, I was introduced to two more business models I’ve never heard of. One was serialbox.com where you subscribe to a plot that’s worked on by a team of writers (similar to a writers room), and every week you get an episode that you can either read or listen to. Another business I learned about during a mentor meet was Blendl.com, a news platform that charges you very little money (10 cents to 90 cents) per article. If the reader doesn’t like it they can ask for a refund. This promotes quality content and is also not asking too much from a reader. This micropayments model can be alluring for those who don’t want to commit so much money but is willing to give away small change for good reads.

Overall, we just have to keep learning and keep innovating.

Yahooligans to Decentralized Communist Internet

Over the past few weeks, I have really enjoyed reading all the articles about how the web has evolved and some of the nostalgia to past times. It has led me to question whether I’m nostalgic for anything on the web.

To be honest, for the first few years of getting my computer, I used it for Microsoft Word and playing CD-ROM games. In terms of the web, I remember it was connected to dial-up internet. I definitely do not miss that. There was also that fun search engine, Yahooligans, that I was taught to only use.

Though it looks fun, what we have now with Google is a million times better.  I remember it taking 30 minutes to download one song through Lime Wire. Not fun. I remember MSN Chat fondly. But I still do the same stuff now just on Facebook messenger instead. AIso I have the added bonus of video chatting and calling. And selfie filters.

I was still a kid when the Web was becoming widespread and I didn’t really use or understand its full potential or what people were hoping to do with it. I definitely wasn’t thinking critically about it. So reading articles from those who used the Internet as adults is really interesting. Similar to learning history, it is important to know what the Internet was like. So I don’t mind these nostalgia pieces. Even if they do romanticize it a bit – but that goes hand in hand with nostalgia.

Ther user-experience, user-interface, the speed, and our global connectedness has definitely improved over the years (at least I think so). I don’t mind the commercial aspect of the web as long as there’s transparency. Many of my friends have made a living off of the web by building an audience and selling content and I commend them for it.

I think what’s important to keep in mind is that these articles on the past are useful tools in looking towards and shaping the future. What comes next? In the Alex Singh twitter thread, there were some ideas thrown around: “decentralized communist internet”, “Industrialized internet”, “a shift to smaller communal and more personal or private online experiences”.   Looking at one of the B-side readings there was an article about peer-to-peer community run networks. The idea of looking back to the past to form a new future is highlighted in this quote:

“One thing that inspires me is that the original idea of the internet was a network of networks,” Hall says. “Different organizations like universities or the Defense Department would form their own network, and then they would join them together, and that is how the internet formed. We’re just getting back to the idea. We formed a network, and we join our network with other networks, and get rid of the ISP layer that we don’t really need.”

Using an idea from the past, people have been able to create their own mesh networks, changing the current systems in place.

I believe the same thing is happening with some new innovations such as Web 3.0 or decentralizing the web. In this Guardian article, it explains how Tim Berners-Lee (the founder of the web) is coming up with technology to store our data so that it remains our property. We are then able to move it around to different apps and websites without surrendering any control. It seems like a reinvention of what the web used to be where people owned their content and there was more privacy involved, just with some new technology.

I’m generally someone who enjoys change. So I’m looking forward to what the future has in store for the web. In the grand scheme of things, we’ve only had the web for such a short amount of time so we need time to make mistakes, improve, make mistakes again, and keep it evolving.

Which Cheese You Like Will Determine How The Internet Is Inside You!!!

Avvai K

There was a period a few years ago when Buzzfeed quizzes were a popular thing – maybe they still are. Here are a few I pulled from Buzzfeed.com:

It was fun and I think it was so popular because (other than the sheer absurdity of it) perhaps a small part of us felt like we were discovering more about ourselves.

I just did the cheese quiz. I’m swiss cheese – I wear my emotions right on my sleeve and am a terrible liar. I’m not edgy because I prefer to savor the best parts of life, and people admire me for that.

That was slightly entertaining to know, but now what?… I guess I continue on with my life.

By the end of Gopnik’s article, The Information: How the Internet Gets Inside Us, I felt similar to how I felt after all those Buzzfeed quizzes…the feeling of so what? What do I do with this label now?  Gopnik categorizes people of how they react to technology as Never-Betters, Better-Nevers, and Ever-Wasers. To me, this just confusing terms for what can be plainly said as pessimists, optimists, and realists. Using examples and quotes, Gopnik did a great job of describing the general thoughts of people who may identify themselves with the categories. I also appreciated him trying to show some of the faults of thinking about technology in one particular way. I don’t think one person can just be one type of class. Even just narrowing in on the web, it’s very diverse, and it might be impossible to feel the same about all aspects of it. I am definitely a little bit of all three. But again so what? I know how I react to the Internet and how other people may think about it..it’s nothing new. What do I do with this information now?

Gopnik briefly touches on the most interesting part of the whole article:

“The real demon in the machine is the tirelessness of the user.”

I’m interpreting this as how we use the web matters.  This article would have been far more interesting if Gopnik dug deeper into how these classes of people use the web. What we think of the Internet to how we use the internet may or may not be related. As a personal example, I’m a Better-Never when it comes to Facebook and yet I still use it and contribute to it. It’s where all my friends are connecting and keeping in touch. I would have been just as happy sticking to the telephone or snail mail but everyone’s on Facebook and I’d like to be a part of it. No matter what we think of the Internet, it’s still part of our daily life and as Gopnik and this week’s reading by Chimero (The Good Room mentions, we live in it now, and whether we like our home or not we still have to use it and how we use it is important to understand.

I’m currently observing my housemates sitting in the living room as I write this. I ask my first housemate, Jayme, what she thinks of the Internet. (I made them all read this article to help me with this reflection). She says she’s a Never-Better. I ask her what she spends the majority of her internet time doing. She admits she spends most of her time online scrolling through Instagram and Facebook and binge-watching Netflix. I’ll pull a Gopnik and coin a term for this: The Passive Scroller. I turn to my other housemate, Sam. He’s a Better-Never. He uses the Internet when he has to for school (research and accessing scholarly articles). He has no social media but uses the Internet as an alternative telephone to chat with his friends via Skype or e-mail. He says he rather spend time in nature. Sam is a Bare-Minimumer.  The final housemate is Kyle. He says he relates with a Better-Waser. When he’s on the Internet, he’s almost always reading articles on his favorite websites or accessing podcasts. For him, the Internet is a tool to expand his horizons and learn. He avoids passive entertainment on it. Kyle is a Life-Enhancer.

This is interesting to me. If we can be more aware of what we spend the most time doing on the Internet, maybe we can change how we even think or react to the Internet. Maybe Sam, who claims he’s a Better-Never, can learn that there are resources online to further his connection with nature (like the link that Chimero shared in his Good Room article:  “The Internet of Natural Things”. This may lead him to a better opinion of the Internet. Kyle who doesn’t approve of passive Netflix watching may be thrilled to know that there are tons of forums actively watching entertainment – discussing, analyzing, and critiquing it. Maybe Jayme, who’s slowly realizing how she’s spending her time on the Internet might seek out other stuff to do on the web like read about things she’s always been curious about, access water-color tutorials on YouTube and finally achieve her dreams of becoming a water-color painter. Who knows!

Of course, Passive Scroller, Bare Minimumer, and Life Enhancer are not the only ways people spend most of their time on the Internet.  I’m sure if I talked to more people I would get some really diverse ways of using the Internet. But I think it’s a more interesting and useful question. It has more of a potential for reflection and can lead to a change in behavior and thinking.