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Whole world(wideweb) in my hand(held device)


It’s one thing to say, as I frequently have, (though to my embarrassment not nearly enough in my Media Re:public papers), that handheld devices will be the computers and the internet platforms of most of the world and that everyone doing something with media (or, in fact, anything at all that involves information) in any country in the world, developed or otherwise, should be figuring out where mobile comes in.It’s another thing to see with your own eyes that this is not a future we can pretend we are planning for, it’s right now. Mobile is it. Mobile mobile mobile mobile. Repeat it, believe it. om mobile padme hum.sms
Saturday’s marvelous Mobile Tech for Social Activism BarCamp made it all real for me. Kudos to Hunter College’s Integrated Media Arts program for getting it – they co-hosted the event.

It was an unconference with about a half dozen sessions going simultaneously all the time. A lot of good Twittering captured some of the stuff, and organizer Mobile Active has a great directory of projects and demos. Patrick Meier did a very detailed summary of his day at iRevolution.

So, very briefly, a few things I came away with:
* I want an Android phone, but even more I want to become an Android developer so I can play with things like RapidSMS.
* I love the fact that so much of the interesting work with mobile is in the developing world. America is behind the curve.
* I am finally reading The Promise of Ubiquity: Mobile as Media Platform in the Global South, which John West and my colleagues at Internews Europe had the prescience to put out in December and which I hope will get the media development community thinking and talking more about this.
* As Ethan Zuckerman, always wise, reminded us via Skype, mobile doesn’t do everything – sometimes it needs to be complemented and multiplied by, for example, radio. Also, projects using voice are really interesting.
* Security and privacy are just as important for mobiles as they are on the Internet.
* Wish I were doing this not for a day but a week at Info-Activism Camp. Generally need more unconference and more camp in my life.
* Wonder if all the competition is good or wasteful (apparently it’ll take 3 years till we can fix the idiocy of mobile phone chargers?)
* Somewhat daunted by the thought of a whole new area of geekery to learn how to fake my way through.
* Saw a demo of 3-D video on an iPhone. Funtastic.

Update: Dried fish and mobile phones – read Christine Gorman on her day at M4change.
“SMS till you drop” — mobile phone ad on van in Kampala, Uganda
Uploaded to Flickr on November 24, 2006

Yay Broadband!


The New America Foundation and many other folks today put out what they’re calling “A National Broadband Strategy Call to Action.” I bring it to your attention because I think that they are right that making affordable high-speed broadband Internet available to everyone in the United States (not just Americans, btw) should be a top priority for the Obama administration. I even agree with many of their arguments:

“Too many Americans still do not have access to affordable broadband or lack the equipment or knowledge to use it effectively…Throughout our history, the United States has adopted policies to maximize the benefits of major technological advances.  In the 19th century, we promoted the development of canals, railroads, and electric power.  In the 20th century, we instituted policies to expand electric power and
national telephone and highway systems, and we transported people to the moon and back.  Now,
in the 21st century, it is time to adopt a National Broadband Strategy that builds on this tradition…  The federal government, in collaboration with state and local governments and the private sector, should play an
active role in stimulating broadband deployment, particularly in unserved areas.”

But, as those who know much more than I do have pointed out, the full Call to Action doesn’t  go nearly far enough. Several colleagues from the Berkman Center commented:

“It’s pretty good, all things considered, but I’d be a lot happier if it made some attempt (even with caveats like the “to the maximum feasible extent” language) to explicitly address net neutrality, non-discrimination, privacy, etc.”

“My only problem with the statement is that it punts on the hard issues, and thus says just about nothing except ‘Yay broadband!’
– The network management clause seems designed to allow for non-neutrality.
– It does not say a word about whether our current infrastructure is the right one for achieving the goals. Status quo? Throw the rascals out? Invest in new approaches? Go fiber? Go open spectrum? Private-public partnerships? Structural separation? (It does call for the “efficient use of spectrum,” but that could be taken as an argument for OR against white spaces, for example.) This is the opposite of a Bold Call to Action. Frankly, I’m hoping for more from the Obama administration. “

“Keep in mind that this is coming from a very diverse group, including AT&T and NCTA (Cable’s trade association).  About the best you could hope for out of that crowd is “Yay, broadband.”  So, yes, it’s pretty watered down and non-specific.

That being said, simply stating that broadband is important and is a priority is a good thing.  It is a call to action without specifying what exactly the action should be. I would certainly hope that the new Administration would be able to say something more concrete about their policy goals.”

So, New America Foundation and company – keep up the good work. There are lots of folks who need to hear this.

Obama tech team – we expect you to be BOLDER than a coalition of communications providers, high technology companies, manufacturers, consumers, labor unions, public interest groups, educators, state and local governments, utilities, content creators, foundations, and other stakeholders in America’s broadband future.

Image: Inside a broadband router (blueish general view)
Uploaded on March 30, 2007

by jepoirrier

Technophobic journalists – still funny?


I love NPR’s On the Media. Really I do. I never miss a podcast and it’s because of OTM that I still give money to WNYC even though I live in Boston. But I found it jarring when Brooke Gladstone, describing how the Moveable Type sculpture in the New York Times building works GIGGLED as she said the following:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mark Hansen has spent long hours in the lobby of The Times, programming natural language processing algorithms, whatever they are, [giggle] to craft the scenes, scenes that will continue to play out long after Hansen and Rubin appear in the obits. I’m sure they won’t mind I said that – it’s quite an honor.

Of course that before I was privileged to enter the geeky kingdom of the Berkman Center last November, I certainly had no idea what natural language processing (NLP to some) was either and I’m sure I would have laughed right along with the idea that it’s kind of cute for us humanities types not to understand “this Internet stuff.” But the fact is, not only do I now have a basic understanding of what NLP is, and I’m embarrassed that I don’t know more, since I’m involved with a project that is using it to help understand how the media cover various topics. Ignorance is not always bliss.

For folks like Brooke and the mere-months-younger me who want to know what NLP is… there’s a serious intro here, but I also like the short explanation from Microsoft’s NLP group:

“The goal of the Natural Language Processing (NLP) group is to design and build software that will analyze, understand, and generate languages that humans use naturally, so that eventually you will be able to address your computer as though you were addressing another person.”This goal is not easy to reach. … As an English speaker you effortlessly understand a sentence like “Flying planes can be dangerous”. Yet this sentence presents difficulties to a software program that lacks both your knowledge of the world and your experience with linguistic structures. Is the more plausible interpretation that the pilot is at risk, or that the danger is to people on the ground? Should “can” be analyzed as a verb or as a noun? Which of the many possible meanings of “plane” is relevant? Depending on context, “plane” could refer to, among other things, an airplane, a geometric object, or a woodworking tool. How much and what sort of context needs to be brought to bear on these questions in order to adequately disambiguate the sentence?”


Miserable broadband in US – why is this not a big story?


If you don’t haz broadband you don’t haz convergence, duz u? Thanks to the still-young site Ground Report, I came across the Communication Workers of America Speed Test. Try it out, it’s a great way to drive home what my fellow fellow David Weinberger pointed out earlier this week: the US is in 15th place (out of 30 developed countries) in broadband penetration and far from the top in any number of other measures.

The US? In 15th place in something as important to our economy as broadband? Naturally the mainstream media everywhere are abuzz with this story, demanding answers from our elected officials, etc. Um, NOT. Searches on Yahoo and Google News turned up exactly TWO articles on the sites of general interest publications (not counting BusinessWeek and several computer/tech publications): The San Francisco Chronicle covered it on its Tech Chronicles blog, and the Capital Times, in Madison, WI ran an article, with an actual byline. Bravo, Capital Times! Both quoted the media reform folks at Free Press.

So will participatory media pick up the slack? So far, doesn’t look like it. (I would love to be proven wrong) Isn’t this a perfect issue (geeky and political and yet ultimately affecting Joe Couch Potato too) that “the” blogosphere (or rather, a couple of the multitude of blogospheres) should be up in arms about, forcing traditional media and ultimately politicians to pay attention? Where is a celebrity blogger when we need one? (If you are one, the OECD data is here; interesting resources also at the Information Technology & Information Foundation.)

I shall be supporting the Communications Workers Speed Matters campaign while waiting for the public outcry to start.

Photo: Darren Hester for CC:Attribution-NonCommercial

tags: OECD, broadband, Free Press, Communications Workers of America