Linking to sources

Ben Goldacre over at BadScience has written an interesting piece showing that the reason journalists don’t link to primary sources is – basically they are lying and would look really stupid if they did. Naturally there are exceptions but it seems to be a plausible argument and the examples are amusing and enlightening.

He goes on to compare media forms and argues for the reasons bloggers link to sources:

Of course, this is a problem that generalises well beyond science. Over and again, you read comment pieces that purport to be responding to an earlier piece, but distort the earlier arguments, or miss out the most important ones: they count on it being inconvenient for you to check. It’s also an interesting difference between different forms of media: most bloggers have no institutional credibility, and so they must build it, by linking transparently, and allowing you to easily double check their work.

I think that this only catches half the truth. Sure bloggers lack “institutional credibility” but when they do have such credibility they continue to link (well, often at least). I think its a cultural thing. News media comes from an analog tradition where you were not necessarily required to link to others. In addition to being cumbersome and time-consuming (a bit) it also takes up space.

Blogs are built on a different base technology and their culture forms from that. Links are not difficult, the readers demand them (because of the nature of web) and linking becomes a natural part of the way in which blogs work. This also means that the reader of a blog will judge a post, in part, from the links it contains.

Or is this just a romantic/naive view of blogs?

Who are we

Technorati producers an annual State of the Blogosphere report which is an interesting attempt to understand whats going on in the online world. The report is extensive and fun to look at. It manages to confirm and confuse at the same time. Here is a very small sample from the 2009 State of the Blogosphere. The blogger is…

  • Two-thirds are male
  • More than half are married
  • More than half are parents

On the the question why we blog:

  • 71% say they blog at least in part in order to speak their minds.
  • 72% say they blog in order to share their expertise.
  • 61% say they blog in order to supplement their income.
  • 42% have become friends with someone they’ve met in person through their blog.

Al Jazeera blogs

In January Al Jazeera created a Creative Commons licensed news repository using, the permissive CC-BY license means that the footage can be used by anyone including, rival broadcasters, documentary makers, and bloggers, so long as Al Jazeera is credited. Now Al Jazeera goes a step further in sharing…

Al Jazeera Blogs #2

Al Jazeera has just launched the latest of its online project called Al Jazeera Blogs.

The website features blog posts written by prominent journalists and correspondents from the global Al Jazeera television network. It also hosts several sub-blogs sections divided by geographical areas, such as the Africa, Asia, Americas, Europe, and the Middle East. In addition, Al Jazeera has a blog focused on international business and the ongoing financial crisis.

The project also features interesting tech extras such as integration with OpenCalais’ semantic tagging system.

Credit once again goes to Al Jazeera English’s Head of Online, Mohamed Nanabhay. Mohamed also happens to be the author of the first commoner letter for this year’s annual campaign, and was one of the key players who made Al Jazeera’s amazing CC repository a reality.

A barrel of blogs?

Language is rich and complex. Just take the specific names we have for groups of nouns: A flock of geese, a swarm of bees and a herd of sheep. These have become common and easily accepted but we do have collectives which are far stranger these have fascinated me since I first came across them eons ago in my first english book: First Aid in English

A shrewdness of apes
A culture  of bacteria
A battery of barracudas
A quiver of cobras
A murder of crows
A pod of dolphin
A swarm of eels
A mob of emus
A business of ferrets
A leash of greyhounds
An array of hedgehogs
A bloat of hippopotami
A parliament of owls
A school of whales

So what should a collection of blogs be called? One suggestion is a gaggle of blogs since they remind me of geese all honking but not really listening, and yet all aware of each other as a group.

What is your suggestion?

The death of the blog (again)

The demise of the blog is a common call but they are still around. In a recent version Paul Boutin, in an article entitled Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004 in Wired Magazine writes:

Thinking about launching your own blog? Here’s some friendly advice: Don’t. And if you’ve already got one, pull the plug.

His argument is interesting but based on the premise that individual bloggers cannot effectively compete with the top blogs in the world today. Therefore since you cannot beat the top blogs in the number of visitors it’s not worth writing.

This is wrong in so many ways.

His arguments are based on the assumption that all bloggers want to compete in that manner. That they want to have the most visitors. If they do not desire this then they should not be there. This is like telling a person that he or she should not bother jogging since he or she will never win the New York marathon. There are other values involved.

In addition to this the belief that only established media will ever be the biggest fails to take into account the rise of all successful new media products from reality tv to fashion blogs – these were not predicted and still they manage to overturn the typical view of what content should be.

Categories are not tags – Tags can be categories

After blogging for a couple of years, yesterday I realised that I could no longer continue in ignorance and finally got to the bottom of the difference between tags and categories. Actually I have been using tags on other sites for some time but never on my blog so it was time to understand (once again) what I was doing. And like many things that have been put off for too long it wasn’t that difficult. Thanks to Lorelle on WordPress for helping me sort this out.

Categories categorize: they help the readers find similar material. Tags help search engines organize the information found online.

  • Categories help visitors find related information on your site. Tags help visitors find related information on your site and on other sites.
  • Categories can have unique names. Tags need to be known names.
  • Categories can have long wordy names. Tags should have short one, two, or at the most, three words.
  • Categories generate a page of posts on your site. Tags can, too, but often generate a page of off-site posts on an off-site website.
  • Categories are not tags. Tags can be categories.
  • Categories don’t help search engines find information. Tags help search engines and tag directories catalog your site.
  • Posts are usually in one to four categories. A single post can list as many tags as you want.
  • So now that I have learned the difference and begun using Simple Tags to help me with my new-found tagging skills then maybe this will make a difference.

    Gender & Technology

    Most of us (should) know that the net is not a particularly nice place. It is a neutral tool that allows all users to go out there and be themselves. Unfortunately the technology also offers people pseudo-anonymity or the illusion of real anonymity. I say unfortunately because this really brings the weirdos out of the woodwork. One of the most casual forms is the misogynist – but racism may be more common.

    In an article on Women on the Web, Caitlin Fitzsimmons writes about the way in which men use technology to spread fear against women and approaches ways in which to deal with the issue. Many tend to think that the best approach is to ignore those who behave badly. This approach can be justified in different ways:

    1. The simplest reason many ignore the problem is by claiming to be too tired/busy to react. This is usually connected to arguments that there are simply too many things to react to. So in general I agree with this argument except for the problem that too many people use this as an excuse all the time and react to nothing. If you cannot fight against everything then at least pick one injustice and fight against that!

    2. Social shunning as punishment. In real life when someone behaves badly we often do not tell them or make a big fuss. Often it is enough to ignore what has happened, in particular if we ignore it visibly. We can, for example, create an embarrassing silence. This is the social equivalent of banishment and the socially aware individual recognizes that boundaries have been crossed and will adjust his/her behavior in the future. The problem with attempting this online is that the offender must feel the need to belong to the group for this to work. Also embarrassing silences only work when the whole social group falls unnaturally silent. This does not work online.

    3. The third approach is the concept of the marketplace of ideas. This basically means that it is actually good for the weirdo’s to get out in the open and test their ideas since this will only encourage the opposition to develop better arguments and convince the weirdo’s that they are wrong. In an offline world this may work in theory in an open debate but it is hardly likely to work in practice.  In an online environment this approach is misguided. It also gives the weirdo’s way too much leeway and opportunity to cause pain to others.

    Fitzsimmons writes:

    The question is then how to tackle the problem. The panellists agreed that while there was no point in engaging directly with hateful comments, ignoring them was not really a viable option.’s Valenti said online misogyny was different to offline abuse in two key respects. “Unlike someone coming up to you on the street, it can be really hard to assess what kind of danger you’re in,” she added. “You don’t know if it’s a 15 year-old in Idaho spouting off or a really scary guy who really is likely to come around and rape you.”

    The online/offline worlds are different and attempting to apply theoretical approaches to handling uncomfortable/threatening/harmful situations in the online world may only cause more harm. No I do not have a solution but I really like the way in which blogs like Feministing are using  technology to reach new readers – or actually viewers since Feministing uses YouTube videos (check out their channel here).

    Confused Politicians on Copyright

    Without being too cynical it is easy to see that politicians are struggling with online copyright violation. Even the terminology is confused – copyright violation is too difficult and most people will talk about file sharing and thereby confusing technology with law.

    In Sweden, where computer literacy is high and fixed price broadband is the norm, intentional copyright violation through filesharing is rife. In addition to this the moral concepts surrounding these acts have been fundamentally re-interpreted. Due to its relative ease, low cost and widespread acceptance – illegal file sharing is not considered by many to be morally wrong. Some not insignificant numbers also argue that it should not even be illegal.

    Naturally politicians are concerned. Not all are cynically using the debate to forward their own popularity – some are sincerely concerned about the rift between law and morality in this question. Swedes, believe it or not, are a rather moral bunch. Sure we have reputations for free sex, expensive alcohol and high suicide rates but this is no longer a true picture if you compare Sweden to the rest of Europe. What I mean by being moral is that Swedes are relatively honest and prefer not to cheat – so when the rift between morality and law is apparent it is a greater reflection of a problem in Sweden than in some other countries.

    So the Pirate Party wants to abolish copyright, The Swedish Left Party recently decided to strive to legalize online file sharing. Now the Centre Party are calling for change in a recent report by their spokesman on Copright Annie Johansson (report in Swedish Pdf) on the future of copyright.

    Their report is interesting in that they want to attempt a re-evaluation of copyright in order to make it into a fair balance of rights. The report is also heavily influenced by the concept of Fair Use and the Creative Commons system which is good on the one hand but unfortunately the concepts are misunderstood in the
    report. The fair use system is not easily applied in the Swedish concept due to different legal cultures and histories. And the Creative Commons licensing system cannot go beyond the legislation in hand.

    Are politicians weary about talking to experts?

    Despite these minor misunderstandings there seems to be growing political will to discuss the purpose of copyright. This could become very interesting.

    Digital Culture book

    The book Structures of Participation in Digital Culture is now available for download for free. Here is a part of the blurb:

    Structures of Participation in Digital Culture, …explores digital technologies that are engines of cultural innovation, from the virtualization of group networks and social identities to the digital convergence of textural and audio-visual media. User-centered content production, from Wikipedia to YouTube to Open Source, has become the emblem of this transformation, but the changes run deeper and wider than these novel organizational forms…

    The contents include some familiar and some unfamiliar names and a lot of chapters that seem worth reading, take a look at this:

    • The Past and the Internet (Geoffrey Bowker),
    • History, Memory, Place, and Technology: Plato’s Phaedrus Online (Gregory Crane),
    • Other Networks: Media Urbanism and the Culture of the Copy in South Asia (Ravi Sundaram),
    • Pirate Infrastructures (Brian Larkin),
    • Technologies of the Childhood Imagination: Yu-Gi-Oh!, Media Mixes, and Everyday Cultural Production (Mizuko Ito),
    • Pushing the Borders: Player Participation and Game Culture (T. L. Taylor),
    • None of This Is Real: Identity and Participation in Friendster (danah boyd),
    • Notes on Contagious Media (Jonah Peretti),
    • Picturing the Public (Warren Sack),
    • Toward Participatory Expertise (Shay David),
    • Game Engines as Open Networks (Robert F. Nideffer),
    • The Diablo Program (Doug Thomas),
    • Disciplining Markets in the Digital Age (Joe Karaganis),
    • Price Discrimination and the Shape of the Digital Commodity (Tarleton Gillespie),
    • The Ecology of Control: Filters, Digital Rights Management, and Trusted Computing (Joe Karaganis).

    Download the Entire Book