Learning via WhatsApp is what’s up!

WhatsApp: cross platform smartphone messenger (source:http://n4bb.com/whatsapp-available-blackberry-q10/)

WhatsApp is a free smartphone application that is available on iPhone, Nokia, Blackberry, Symbian and Windows smartphones and gives users the possibility to send text messages, voice clips, photos, videos, locations and contacts. This all can be done in a one-on-one conversation as well as in a group conversation, in which users can talk to up to 50 people at the same time. To stay in touch via the WhatsApp application, people need each others numbers and must have downloaded the app on their smartphones.

One of the main reasons i’m writing this blogpost is bumping into a blogpost by Akhmad Riyanto, ‘English Language Learning Using WhatsApp Application'(2013). In his online article, Riyanto claims that WhatsApp can be used not only to socialize with friends, but also to study and even learn a new language. He uses the example of English by stating non-English students are able to learn English faster, better and more fun by joining a WhatsApp group with fellow students and teachers. The teachers then are able to post small assignments and ask students to complete them by using one of the possibilities WhatsApp offers. In this way, students are able to read English and are obliged to answer in English, which improves their English language skills. Because WhatsApp is free, everyone using a smartphone will be able to participate (Riyanto, n. pag.).

In an article agreeing with Riyanto’s, WhatsApp was found innovative and practical by most of the students involved in the research. In ‘Improving readers’learning skills through instant short messages: a sample study using WhatsApp'(2013) by Gutierrez-Colon Plana, Escofet, Gimeno et al, the authors investigated the possibility to learn English by using whatsApp and found 90,63 percent out of 95 students figured using WhatsApp as a space for e-learning helped them engage in studying and got them extra motivated to learn English. One problem the authors noticed was the unregularity in which the contact between teacher and student took place. There was no time schedule given for posting questions or assignments which made it hard for students to reply on specific times (82 Gutierrez-Colon Plana, Escofet, Gimeno et al.).

Another positive outtake on e-learning by Whatsapp is given by Rambe and Chipunza who do research on WhatsApp instant messaging at a South-African University. Their research shows WhatsApp supports knowledge sharing bewteen students, and between students and teachers. By a student in their research, WhatsApp is called ‘[…] a communication, transnational platform'(334 Rambe & Chipunza). The researchers state: ‘Blogs comments also showed that students felt that WhatsApp gave them the possibility to express themselves freely in a non-restricted environment thus removing the low participation constraints characteristic of lectures’ (334). Also their research showed students learned technical skills by sharing and searching information on WhatsApp they could also use on other study-related platforms like the Blackboard environment (335).

According to the research above, you could conclude WhatsApp can be a good environment to support (e-)learning. My personal outtake on this is that it seems an intrusion on my personal life. I would like to follow my own schedule without the anxiety of never knowing when my teacher will put another assignment on WhatsApp. On the other hand, having a WhatsApp group consisting of about fifteen people following the same subject in school can come in handy for asking each other questions and meeting up to study together, I’m just not really excited about involving teachers. One thing WhatsApp has to offer that other media don’t, is the combination of almost every medium in one. Sharing videos and pictures can also be done by Facebook, but Facebook users usually set their own language settings and use Facebook in their native language. Sharing voice messages can be done by a telephone call (YES, you can even call somebody using your smartphone!) and sharing your location can be done by sending a text message (only WhatsApp shows a map and possibly even directions if you want it to). One plus on having an English WhatsApp study group is students being obliged to read and answer in English. Whatsapp is always with you on your smartphone and offers television, Facebook, navigation, chatting and calling in one.  Learning via WhatsApp, that’s what’s up!


Rambe, Patient & Crispen Chipunza. ” Using mobile devices to leverage student access to collaboratively-generated resources: A case of WhatsApp instant messaging at a South African university”. International Conference on Advanced Information and Technology for Education, 2013.

Rambe, Patient & Crispen Chipunza. ” Using mobile devices to leverage student access to collaboratively-generated resources: A case of WhatsApp instant messaging at a South African university”. International Conference on Advanced Information and Technology for Education. South Africa, 2013.

Riyanto, Akhmad. ” English Language Learning Using WhatsApp Application”. Akhmad Rianto, Love for All, Hatred for None. WordPress, the Splendio Theme. 21 July 2013. <http://akhmadriyantoblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/english-language-learning-using-whatsapp-application/>

Social networksite Hyves is declared ‘website of the year’ by internet users in The Netherlands. About fifty percent of the Dutch own a profile on this fast growing social network site. But what is Hyves and how to study it? (more…)

Recalling RFID logo by Leon&LoesRecalling RFID was held on Friday the 19th and Saturday the 20th of October at de Balie. This unique event included presentations on RFID, debates and digital connectivity scenarios by industry representatives, academics, artists, privacy advocates, programmers and consultants. Recalling the current state of affairs and looking to the future, it turned out to be a very interesting, high quality conference.

Speakers included Katherine Albrecht (CASPIAN – Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion And Numbering, USA), Bart Schermer (privacy lawyer and coordinator of RFID Platform Netherlands), Rafi Haladjian (founder of Violet company – known from the Nabaztag Rabbit, tech entrepreneur), Melanie Rieback (Ubisec researcher who invented the first RFID virus, VU University Amsterdam), Stephan Engberg (Priway/Copenhagen Business School), Christian van ‘t Hof (researcher, Rathenau Instituut), Willem Velthoven (designer and director of Mediamatic), interaction designer Timo Arnall, and many others.

This summary and review assumes that readers have at least a vague notion of what Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is. But just to recall:

RFID makes it possible to identify and track just about any physical object you can think off – books, car tires, shoes, medicine bottles, clothing, pets, and even human beings.
The “RF” part of RFID stands for “radio frequency” and explains how RFID does its tracking: It uses electromagnetic energy in the form of radio waves to communicate information at a distance.
— Katherine Albrecht, Spychips, 2005

RFID and Police Investigation

Christian van ‘t Hof gave the first presentation on ‘RFID and police investigation’. He began by asking how many people had RFID on them at the moment, and the vast majority of the audience raised their hand immediately. He used this to assess the level of knowledge in the audience: most people in the Netherlands do not realize that, on average, they carry around three RFID tags everyday. Christian works for the Rathenau institute, a think tank that investigates new technologies and advises the Dutch parliament. His presentation thus concerned the public support of RFID and the related political debates and legal questions.

So what is the use of RFID for government? With RFID becoming a part of everyday life, it is digitalizing public space. Knowing the ID of an RFID means knowing a time, a place, and an action. In the Netherlands this is most clearly seen in public transport (a system now being implemented uses RFID for ticketing), and in new passports (where not only RFID is integrated but also some biometric data). RFID used in this way means that you leave digital traces in public space. So how, for instance, might RFID be used for police investigation? Van’t Hof takes us through a scenario involving the new transportation system.

When you have a personal travel card for public transport, the identity of the chip is connected to your personal data (and it is worth noting that such subscriptions are cheaper than anonymous tickets). Because the system knows who was where at what time, this data can be used for criminal investigation. Van’t Hof says this is a clear-cut benefit in some cases: say, when a murder that takes place in the subway, it will give police easy access to witnesses and possible suspects. But things get trickier when it goes a step further. For instance, through profiling it may also be possible to find out who is evading taxes. The person who collects unemployment benefits but is always in transit during rush hours may be flagged as a possible offender. Such profiling could also be used to find potential terrorists, but here one already runs into the problem of effectiveness versus potential misuse.

In every new Dutch passport there is some biometric data (your passport photo and, by 2009, your fingerprints). The picture on this passport needs to be taken in a specific manner: your face must match ‘the matrix’ (seriously, this is the technical term). Currently, the ORRA system (Online Raadpleegbare Reisdocumenten Administratie) is being proposed for storing personal and biometric data in a central database, with the justification that it will prevent passport fraud. But this database also provides a valuable resource for authorities as it can be used to profile, investigate and research.

Van’t Hof also discussed research into the public perception of RFID. When doing focus group research, the Rathenau institute expected to find that people would not know a lot about RFID and would be offended by the possibilities of its misuse. As much of the available information on RFID relates to technical issues, it was no surprise that their first intuition was correct. Less expected, however, was what focus groups said about RFID after hearing details on what it is:

  1. Many in the focus groups said it was only ‘natural’ for such information to be collected in a central database used by the government.
  2. When asked if travel data should be linked to a specific person, 72% said this was okay for finding suspects of a crime, 61% went a step further and agreed that witnesses of a crime should be found, and a startling 60% said that public transport should be fully personalized – meaning that the transport companies and the government would always know who was where doing what.
  3. When asked about using biometric data from passports, 55% said the photos could be used for investigations, 65% said the fingerprints could be used for investigation, 52% said it could be used for international data exchange, and 62% said it could be used to identify a person via security camera.

Christian van ‘t Hof did note that “public opinion can be slippery” and that perhaps the public first needs to fully understand what RFID is and how it can be used. Furthermore, the context of the questions – criminal investigation – might as well have influenced the results. Further research with questions related to RFID in different contexts is therefore needed to get more solid results regarding public perception of RFID. The public opinion reflected in these results did however lead him to prediction that we will go to fully personalized transport (as we have with airplanes) and that it will be used to track and investigate. What he did not touch on, however, is that there is a great difference between airlines and subways – public transport is something one has a right to, so the analogy with air transport is questionable.

Rathenau takes the RFID debate beyond privacy issues by taking into consideration the costs involved in getting this system to work effectively for criminal investigation. For the system to work, all parties involved should store personal data in a standardized way limiting errors and incomplete databases. Telephone and Internet providers already store and make available telecommunication data for a period of six moths for police investigation under Centraal Informatiepunt Onderzoek Telecommunicatie (CIOT). This law implemented by government brought with it enormous costs and efforts for providers. Implementing similar laws for the public transport system will also increase costs which will eventually be payed by the public.Researching public perception of RFID in the context of costs involved will probably lead to different results than in the criminal investigation context. Christian tells us that the RFID issue is currently only considered by the ministry for economic affairs, and that this is one of the major obstacles in taking up RFID in a responsible way. His message to the parliament is fivefold:

  1. have a clear position on centralizing biometric data,
  2. have a clear position on using travel data,
  3. do more research on effectiveness,
  4. question if there should be data retention laws for RFID or not,
  5. explain your vision on RFID, privacy, innovation, and investigation.

The question of effectiveness would be posed a couple of times today. The most famous example is that although the police knew, or at least had information on, the Hofstad network and their planned attacks, they were unable to act on it. Will more surveillance data lead to a safer society?

For more information on ORRA and the statistics mentioned, see this Dutch paper of the Rhatenau institute.

RFID guardian

VU researcher Melanie Rieback is known worldwide for her expertise on RFID and privacy, but especially for her implementation of the first RFID virus. Melanie started off with some history about RFID. As far back as World War II RFID was used in planes to identify themselves as being ‘friend or foe’ or, more accurately, ‘identify or die’. The system was ad hoc, as pilots would adjust their altitude or trajectory in a way that radar operators would understand. As such, the system suffered from ‘Denial Of Service’ attacks and a lot of ‘friends’ ended up being shot as well. From the start, then, Rieback argues that trust in a system is crucial. Later on RFID was used as a binary system against theft in clothing stores (remember the big white buttons). Such systems were easily fooled by using, for example, a bag with an inner-casing made of aluminum so that the chip could not be read. Over the last few years RFID has further been developed to contain 96 bits (enough to uniquely number every item produced on earth for the next thousand years). It is now mainly deployed under the banner of improved logistics.

Melanie is concerned with the fact that most tags do not use any privacy or security protection measures. Most RFID tags happily yell their ID to every reader in the neighborhood. In this way the tags ‘leak’ a lot of information, which is something RFID readers are guilty of too.

To improve RFID, Rieback says, we need to start thinking of it as computing. Tags are low-end computers, yes, but computers all the same. After the mainframe, minicomputers, PCs and embedded computers, there is RFID: the smallest computing unit today. If you want to build the so-called “Internet of Things”, all of the problems with the internet now will also affect the new technology. Melanie’s point is that right now users of RFID have no control whatsoever about who or what reads which tags when. Therefore she is currently developing the RFID guardian.

The RFID guardian is focused on putting security and privacy into RFID. The three main goals are to investigate the security and privacy threats faced by RFID systems, to design and implement real solutions against these threats, and to investigate the associated technological and legal issues. The RFID guardian would act as a kind of radio-frequency firewall, one that could be housed in mobile phones. The main characteristics of the device should be that it is portable, battery powered as well as provide and secure two-way RFID communication. It must act like an RFID reader, but also as an RFID tagger. It will have to imitate, spoof and simulate multiple RFID tags.

Touching on why such security is so important, Melanie points out that the new chip system for public transport was easily hacked. A group of UvA Master students hacked one of the cards within a week. Knowing how expensive this system was, this is worrying: perhaps companies behind RFID do not know where to go with their security questions?

After her presentation, Rieback was asked about the legitimacy of such a project: couldn’t it be used to attack systems? Her response was that it could of course be used maliciously as well but that turning your back on the current threats was not the solution either.

Melanie Rieback showing the RFID guardian:

The RFID guardian will be relaunched on the first of November with a completely refashioned website, wiki, forum, blog and open-source schematics. Be sure to check rfidguardian.org!

Interaction Space

Timo Arnall talked about RFID in Interaction Design. We have currently entered a phase of social and tangible computing where the focus is much more on human capabilities. The current discourse about RFID is clouded by metaphors because it does not have a single shape. Arnall calls for increased visibility of RFID in design, so as to show the different shapes and forms that RFID comes in. Every medium has its own voice, and with the right designs different RFID readers and cards would become different expressions. Such a visual language is formed culturally – in Japan for example, RFID has a very friendly face:Recalling RFID

RFID is in need of some demystification, as it is notoriously ‘invisible’. Designers must be creative and find ways to manage RFID’s visibility. While the technique is usually hidden, the experience of it does not have to be. How can we visualize what goes on behind the tag, in the network? What are the actions that are being triggered in the network when you swipe an RFID tag? How can we visualize different uses and actions of RFID?

Recalling RFID

With his presentation, Arnall showed us that RFID is not only a security risk but also a space opening up for internal action, one that designers can and will visualize, design and potentially manage.

The Library and Social Networks

Willem Velthoven heads Mediamatic, and began by presenting some RFID projects the company and foundation has been involved in. The first of these was the symbolic table. This ‘interface free” table allowed users to simply tag objects and to play with (Web) content in a tactile way. Other projects were those displayed at the PICNIC conference, such as the ‘friend finder’. This application allows conference visitors to meet up in real space and become friends on an online social network at the same time. Using RFID tokens they print out business-cards with their profiles on them. As an added incentive, they can get a free beer. So, in essence, the installation uses and manipulates digital data through physical interaction.

Another PICNIC project was iTea, which was also a conversation starter. By placing one’s tag in the teacup, visitors would receive personalized data taken from both their personal profiles as well as from a Google query of their name. This gave the users an impression of the possibilities of data mining, profiling and RFID. The Photo Booth was also very popular at PICNIC, and allowed people to get their picture taken with friends and interact with one another using RFID.

The latest Mediamatic project involves the new public library of Amsterdam. Where libraries increasingly face the challenge of ‘upgrading’ to current information and searching demands, there is also a possibility for innovation.

Velthoven was asked to reflect on the whole process of lending- and returning books, in this case by use of RFID and/or ‘traditional’ bar-codes. Although the project and implementation is just beginning, some critical questions and remarks were already clear. For instance, he noted a security concern, since it easy to gain access to others’ data. But this data could also be used differently: if a digital system for accessing lending data is already in place, why not make it possible to share that data?

The main question for the project concerns the (changing) role of a library today. Velthoven suggested that, through new technologies and social networking sites like the ones used at PICNIC, the library could become a social meeting place, where instead of reading in silence, one could meet up with fellow-readers, have book discussions, share interests etc. What Velthoven did not address is whether this should be the primary aim of a library, or whether or not there are already non-technical ways of achieving the same goals (e.g. book clubs).

Velthoven concluded with a simple message, ‘Make it fun again!’ Using online social networks in combination with new technologies like RFID, he sees a different path for classic institutions like the library.

RFID in japan – Ubiquitous Network Society

Wouter Schilpzand is a researcher at the Technical University of Eindhoven. He conducted a couple of months of field-research into location-based services in Japan. With an overload of examples, from the Oyster-card and a number of mobile-phone applications for (among other things) public transport payments, the message was that the integration of technology in Japan is way ahead of Europe. The question why, however, was not really addressed, though, which is a pity. By only looking at the results of this techno-saturation, Schilpzand’s presentation missed an opportunity.

That Japanese culture is a mix of tradition and technology is well known, so the story about how gadget-friendly the early adopters are could be expected. One outcome of ‘successful’ dissemination is that the average Japanese consumer is less critical and more open to new applications and new technologies. Where the European market is interested in established products and known for watchdog-like skepticism, the Japanese prosumer is more willing to give feedback and thus contribute to the research and development of new commercial technologies.

The conclusion of his talk was that we should look more at the rapid development of Japanese RFID and mobile technology. What he did not point out is that this cannot be reproduced directly elsewhere, since there are cultural differences and problems of scale and infrastructure (Japan is a relatively secluded area and the population is concentrated in big cities with a strong, cohesive culture).

Perhaps the rise of what Bruce Sterling calls the Spime or technology Wrangler will teach us to be less afraid of upcoming technologies, and possibly without losing skepticism. That Schilpzand’s presentation was so different to the rest serves as a reminder that Anglo-American fears of big brother-scenarios still rule discussions of RFID technology. Highlighting the divide, he argued that the dangers of RFID mentioned by Rieback and others, while very interesting, are a repetition of warnings, rather than proposals for solutions.

Serious Gaming

Rafi Haladijan is one of the founders of a Paris-based company called Violet, which recently gained international fame with its product, the Nabaztag. This is (in our view) the first real consumer product that deals with widely discussed phrases like Ambient Intelligence and the internet of things. Before going into more detail on the product, Haladijan gave the audience some background information.

Violet was founded in 2003, when the internet was viewed somewhat differently; with unstable connections, low connectivity and slower modems, the goal of ‘developing infrastructure and services to link all types of objects’ was far-fetched. Nonetheless, Violet looked to move in this direction by focusing on the meaning of phrases like calm technology and ubiquitous computing.
The first instance of inspiration he mentioned is the talking teddy bear. Mixing views on Moore’s law and evolution, Haladjian explains that the teddy bear carries the statement that everything will indeed be hooked up to some kind of network via some sort of electronics. Not because of a technological drive being imposed on society, but simply an inevitable evolutionary step.

According to Haladijan, the reason why big players like Philips and Sony have not entered the market of home-entertainment / ambient intelligence yet is due to their approach. These companies focus on creating a ‘smart-home’, but do so with a naive vision on user-technology interaction. The smart home is one very expensive product with no real killer application, and thus exactly misses the point. In a time where we are halfway between the Flinstones and the Jetsons, the question is how to shape the road we are on now. We all have to do this, he says, and not leave it to bulky tech-companies. This is why Violet aims to create affordable products (20 to 200 euro) within the realm of Ambient Intelligence, with a focus on poetic and fun applications. Haladijan reasons that, by creating affordable products, people will understand the new technologies better and be able to create their own needs and values on that basis. By empowering people to do certain things with their products, a more diverse and more interesting adoption of technology will emerge naturally. What he proposes, then, is a bottom-up approach to consumer adoption of RFID.

Within a standard Western home, a person owns approximately 6000 to 8000 objects, of which maybe five of them are linked to a network (radio, phone, television, computer). The aim is to link all 8000 objects to a network, talking to each other – exchanging information, ultimately linking everything in the world together!

For the Violet company the first step was a networked lamp, a strange precursor given that their prize product now is the NaBaztag, the world’s first smart rabbit. Using an anthropomorphic shape as an interface, the NaBaztag is a more attractive way to interact with a network. In other words, it creates a portal to an internet or network without a screen, but a connection that it is more intuitive than scree-based interfaces.

Next up is the Nazbaztag/tag, which is equipped with an RFID reader. The reason behind this is that it will integrate with Ztamps, tags which you can stick on almost anything. When the Ztamps comes near the rabbit (or the other way around), content can be triggered, anything from sound, lights, website to mail. The nice thing about this very simple but effective application is that one can contextualize and confine digital content to physical objects. Again here the philosophy is to not project a function onto the user, but to give user-generated content a chance with this technology in the belief that cool things will emerge through use. As a concluding statement, Haladjian reminds us that this all really comes down to storytelling and creating new and exciting ways to facilitate it (especially where interaction is the story!).

In the short q&a, which was more of a summary, the overall message was that we have to move interactions away from the screen and shift towards a new interaction paradigm. RFID should not be used as ‘another way to load stuff on your screen’, as Timo Arnall put it.

The great advantage to moving away from the screen is that we can move away from the world of metaphors (like the desktop metaphor on screen) to direct couplings of meaning and action. According to Haladjian, ‘We have to make a bridge from screen to the real world again, where the challenge is the spreading and representation of data.’

Spy Chips

For a couple of years now, Katherine Albrecht has been on a crusade against RFID. She is well known for her book and website Spychips, and the revised version of that book written especially for Christians (where she recognized that RFID could be thought of as the biblical ‘mark of the beast’). Although some of us expected an extreme activist with little ‘content’, only the former was true. Albrecht was eloquent, and showed that she is very knowledgeable about RFID and its applications and uses.

She began by noting that the RFID industry always draws an analogy with the barcode or UPC, saying RFID just makes things easier. However, she explains, there are three major differences that must be considered when an ID is connected with a database and remotely readable:

  1. Unique Codes – think about the same UPC on each bottle of coke versus a unique code on each bottle which allows cross-referencing (and again, creating knowledge of a time, a place, and an action),
  2. Involuntary – RFID is readable without you knowing it versus handing over an item to be scanned,
  3. Fields – RFID works with an electromagnetic field

These points were elaborated upon in the rest of Albrecht’s talk. First of all she described the history of tracking items: from barcodes (for products) to loyalty cards (personal identifiers) to RFID (which allows for information on when, where and why consumers use products).

Albrecht told a couple of stories of the industry deploying RFID without letting the consumers know that they were being ‘spied’ upon. As an example you might want to look at the case of Gilette, the company that secretly took pictures of customers taking razor blades from the shelves. Apparently the industry does not want the public to know that they are using RFID and what it is used for, as Albrecht has been to various meetings where the industry was talking about strategies against consumer backlash.

Albrecht also explained the difference between a chip and a tag. A chip is a tag plus an antenna. Inkode now has a chipless tag, making RFID possible through the physical property of the tag itself – no electronics involved. With the advent of conductive ink, the packaging of an item can now become an antenna. This means that RFID can be truly invisible. And yet, no laws are in place to make sure consumers know when something is tagged with RFID. When products are tagged with RFID at the source (by the supplier), tags can be embedded deep into the object with little or no chance for removal.

Wall-Mart for example, now only works with suppliers who have RFID in their products. The company has also started item level tagging, despite the Code of Conduct they signed in accordance with CASPIAN and the privacy rights clearing house.

One result of this is that, in the near future, your trash will tell all kinds of secrets. Items will be tagged with RFID and a city may routinely scan your garbage, learning about the products you have bought and where you got them, or where you have been (you bought it in one place but threw it away somewhere else), and in that way be able to make specific profiles about you. This way your trash will be worth a lot of money! Even short-range RFID, then, can be very invasive.

Quoting from the report of Twan Eikelenboom at Viruteel Platform to give you the rest of Albrecht’s talk:

Implementation of the tag is all about hiding it: ‘You can sandwich RFID tags in shoes. And once this is done you can be identified everywhere: when you pass doorways, ceilings and floors you can be identified’. But what about RFID tags molded into tires? Or RFID tagged swipeless credit cards? The effects of implementation are still every unclear, as this article mentioned by Albrecht shows: Chip Implants Linked to Animal Tumors.

After implementation in everyday life, applications can be deployed. Some applications are already in use, for example in amusement parcs such as Alton Towers and LEGOland. You could say that this is merely in an amusement parc setting. IBM however has patented the Person Tracking Unit. This specific patent places RFID readers in the environment and as people walk around it tracks their movement and records products they carry with them. This could mean that “they” could look inside a woman’s bag to see, for example, if she carries babyfood and in turn use that for marketing purposes. Besides IBM, Bellsouth/Cingular has patented perhaps the most privacy invading example, which is about ‘post consumption information’ or simply put: garbage scanning.

The answer according to Albrecht lies in action. As an example she mentions the hidden RFID chips found at the Future Store in Germany. Metro Group had hidden RFID chips in loyalty cards and through protest, the company had to comply with privacy laws. More action is needed according to Albrecht to stop projects such as the forced chipping of Alzheimer patients.

At the recalling RFID event Albrecht premiered her final research on microchip induced tumors. Apparently RFID chips in bodies caused cancers to form around them, the technical term being foreign body tumor genesis. More information about this can be found spychips.com and antichip.com.

Video screening The Catalogue (UK 2005 | 5’30):

Techno Optimism

The final speaker was Bart Schermer, secretary of the RFID platform, privacy specialist at ECP, and a privacy researcher at the University of Leiden. He immediately stated that he was a ‘techno optimist’ and a big fan of RFID. He tried to defuse the spychips threat as sketched by Katherine Albrecht, while saying he agreed with her on many points. He did this by asking us to go back in time and ask us if we would have stopped the internet’s development had we knew beforehand that it would also be used in morally reprehensible ways, for instance to spread child pornography. He said that no technology is inherently malevolent but that its uses may be. Although RFID is not inherently bad, he did see some possible threats: invisible data-collection, the possibilities for profiling, classifying, and tracking consumers, as well as ‘Minority Report’-style advertising. He said that none of this was likely to happen,

because the primary goal of a company is to make money; not to blackmail customers nor follow them everywhere. RFID will be used to seduce its consumers and maximize their value. Companies are bound by law and it takes two to tango. Companies are not forcing you to use it.

To further the defuse the dangers of RFID he explained that some important Dutch laws are already in place:

  • Surreptitious gathering of personal data is a violation of the data protection directive.
  • The same applies to using personal data for other purposes than for which they have been gathered.
  • Surreptiously monitoring and following people is a criminal offense.
  • Targeted advertising without prior permission from consumers is a violation of the (European) data protection directive.

Bart Schemer then quoted Francis Bacon: ‘Human knowledge and human power meet in one, for where the cause is not known, the effect cannot be produced’, meaning ‘information is power’.

If information is power, then (personal) data will be used to profile and classify consumers. According to Bart Schermer, privacy is thus a means to maintain ‘economic equality’ between companies and consumers. Consumers (should) have a say in the processing of their personal data. He dared to add “It is you who is in control of your personal data”.

However, Dutch citizens value security higher than privacy. Over 70% of the Dutch citizens is in favor of using RFID-data for law enforcement purposes, and consumers seem to value convenience, price, and speed over privacy (even if they say differently sometimes). Therefore, the single biggest threat to privacy is YOU.

Bart sums up how he would like to change consumers:

  • consumers should be (made) aware of the importance of privacy
  • consumers must therefore be informed when, how and where RFID is used
  • consumers must have the option to deactivate RFID at the point of sale (opt out)
  • consumer organisations must inform their constituency about RFID on the basis of facts not on the basis of fear

The way forward for companies should be the following:

  • use RFID in a responsible manner (privacy is good business sense)
  • provide benefits not only to themselves, but also to consumers
  • provide openness and transparency about the use of RFID
  • provide a truly free choice for consumers

And for governments:

  • create tools for the protection of privacy (PETs, RFID guardians, logo system)
  • place the consumer in control
  • monitor personal shifts in the balance of power, and correct where necessary (refrain from creating more investigative powers and coercive measures)

Finally, consumers should:

  • take their responsibility in safeguarding their privacy and individual liberty
  • be wary of buying into doomsday scenarios
  • actively resist applications that violate consumer rights

To reiterate, Bart stated that no technology is inherently malevolent. It is easy to create a dystopian scenario (and way more fun) than creating a realistic one. However, we should not judge a technology solely on the basis of possible misuse or abuse.


Katherine Albrecht responded to Bart Schermer by saying that the privacy directive is limited to Europe. And even when such a legal system is in place it is difficult to find violations. It is than even more difficult to find out what has been done with the data. How can you prove something when the data is privately owned and can be deleted with a simple click? She stated that Schermer has put too much trust in the law.

Schermer responded by saying that database law is from the 1970’s, and that so far it has little to say about whether a tag in your jacket should be considered personal data. The only solution is a critical consumer that can create a backlash against companies. Information, he says, is the most important currency in information society.

Asked whether technologies can be inherently good or bad, Albrecht stated that something like RFID can invite malevolence. When looking to history, we can see for example that Hitler could coordinate the execution of so many people precisely because demographics were recorded through IBM’s Hollerith punch card technology – this made it easy to quickly identify and localize Jewish communities and others.

Albrecht says that history tells us what we don’t want to know, which is that governments with too much power kill people. She argues that in the past century, national governments have produced more casualties than any other cause. Bart Schermer responds that there is difference between a technical system in place on the one hand and the rise of a dictator on the other. If the source of the problem is evil governments then we should look to prevent them from coming to power. Katherine states that the risks of RFID outweigh the benefits, and reminds us that Hitler was democratically chosen as well.

Summing up, the moderator makes a call for value sensitive design systems. Engberg adds to this, saying that so far, those paying the bills are choosing the wrong infrastructures for using RFID. Creating data does not ensure the creation of data regulation – that needs extra work. Albrecht notes that it only takes the stroke of a pen to change policy, and a button to avoid it. She says no privacy law will be enough, and instead pushes for a guerrilla attitude. Ultimately, she say, she is against the deployment of RFID. Period. At this point she makes an emotional appeal, saying that we are in a battle for our lives and those of future generations.

The discussion shifted to the terms of debate about privacy. At present there is a false dichotomy: privacy versus security. The real debate however, accoriding to Katherine, should be about freedom versus control. In the current debate, policy-makers can point out that privacy is for those who have something to hide. When she points out that privacy is not an end but a means to achieve freedom of speech, economic equality and other democratic goals, the other participants cannot help but agree.

The videos of all presentations will be available here soon.


On Saturday two workshops on RFID were held. One was on the social uses of RFID and the other about the ‘future histories of RFID’. In the former, led by Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, a group of people went into town to take pictures of everyday objects which could be socially enhanced by RFID. They came up with an augmented chess board, with which chess pieces could be tagged and games could be played with the help of friends located elsewhere. Another project talked about tags in stickers, through which friends and strangers could leave behind (URLs for) movies for one another. Yet another project was about leaving secret messages on bench, and this kept up a common theme of ‘dislocating’ and ‘relocating’ social interaction in different places at different times.

The second workshop, led by Richard Rogers and the Digital Methods Initiative, investigated information politics on RFID. The full report can be found at the Digital Method Initiative’s project page on Future Histories of RFID and in Timo Arnall’s excellent blog post. The research includes The Substantive Composition of RFID According to Folksonomy and the Web, Wikipedia Anonymous Authorship Cartogram: The RFID Entry, Drama in Search Space: RFID and Arphid Queries Over Time, RFID Imagery: ‘Wet’ and ‘Dry’ Associations Compared, and Issue Packaging on the Web: Style Sheets for RFID Sites by Site Type. Timo Arnall wrote a blogpost about the Future Histories of RFID workshop.

All pictures were made by Anne Helmond.

For another conference summary, see Twan Eikelenboom’s great post at Virtueel Platform.

For anyone interested in design, open source and open design, my recently finished (june 2012) MA Thesis is available for download here. Below is the thesis’ abstract:

Following the course of web 2.0, user-generated content and open source software; design disrupts the traditional chain of production and opens itself. Open design is categorized by peer reviewed downloadable products that can be developed by the users themselves with the aid of 3D printers and rapid prototype machines that decreases the human labor, time, cost of fabrication and distribution – since it can be done near the place that has the demand of the product. Similarly to open source software, open design demands the availability of documentation to guarantee the products’ openness.

However, open source software, among most open movements, operate in the virtual realm, dealing with non-physical products. Hence, one may ask: How open software’s concepts translate into the physical design realm? Moreover, how concepts from open design itself behave when put into practice?

This thesis will be elaborated around the relationship among open source software, peer production systems and open design and how theory translates into practice. The thesis will have the aid of a case study based on the open design laboratory, FabLab Amsterdam.

First, the thesis includes a discussion of the two open movements, software and hardware, based on the key concepts of open source software such as produsage, collective intelligence and peer production. Then, open design’s concepts will also be presented to establish the foundations of the thesis.

In order to better understand how the theories of open hardware and software translate into practice, the FabLab case study will be presented. FabLab is a fabrication laboratory that began as an initiative from MIT and nowadays has a large community and laboratories spread all over the world practicing open design. The research counts with interviews with the users, interns and managers about open design, community participation and the FabLab itself. The case study is intended as a practical vision of open design. Moreover, other open initiatives will be presented throughout the thesis and will be theoretically analyzed as well.

Lastly, conclusions about how open theory translates into practice will be drawn based on FabLab’s case study and will be extended to the open design community as a whole.

Juliana Paiva is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

shockTo our surprise the term shocklog, a wellknown term in the Netherlands, was nowhere to be found on the rest of the World Wide Web. We wanted that to change, so we -The Masters of Media- coined the term on a new English Wikipedia entry. So what are those infamous shocklogs about?
A shocklog is a weblog that usually contains controversial, critical, surprising and/or appalling content. Below is our initial entry, but of course the discussion rages on at Wikipedia.

Shocklogs are weblogs that use shock and slander to sling mud at current affairs, public individuals, institutions and so on. Authors of shocklogs usually comment on an item in a very provoking and insulting way, often resulting in even more seriously offensive comments, such as threats of rape and murder.


In an era of internet users actively creating their own content, easily accessible tools are available for the public to create their own data visualizations. Applications like Many Eyes or Tableau Public give statistic enthusiasts the appropriate possibilities to show their work in a graphical way.  Otto Neurath, one of the prime members of the Vienna Circle, was the creator of Isotype: an attempt to create a universal graphical sign language that could be understood worldwide. His desire was to establish a way of educating that would narrow down the gap between the educated and the non-educated. The key to achieving this goal was ‘consistent visualization’ through the use of graphical images. Neurath, who experimented with interaction in his visualizations, would have approved the recent wave of interactive graphics being developed and spread through the internet. And even bigger possibilities emerged when software developers created the tools for everyone to create their own visualizations, which they could subsequently share online. The abundance of data sets and sharing possibilities meant a new way for looking at our culture. Creating visualizations does not simply mean pie charts and bar graphs; using maps can be an excellent way of showing distance or proportion. Google is one of the developers aiding this development. Google Maps offer their API (application programming interface) online to their users, and even created Google Chart Tools for an easier access to the software.

Space and spatiality are important factors in data visualization. Any environment can become significant when relevant factors are being assigned. Yuri Engelhardt calls this a ‘meaningful space’, or more in the case of Google Maps a ‘map space’. He describes in Graphics with a cause how the implementation of two labeled axes already constitutes a meaningful space. Signifying elements does not necessarily require paper or pixels: it can emerge everywhere, as exemplified by Engelhardt: “Imagine sitting in a bar and using the arrangement of empty beer glasses on the bar table to explain, say, the location of Berlin with respect to London and Paris. The positioning of only two beer glasses, standing for London and Paris, creates a Meaningful Space – every position on the bar table has been assigned a geographical meaning.” But in a world where visualization tools are plentiful, people do not have to reinvent the wheel and locate Berlin and London on a self-drawn map. They can turn to Google Maps.

Using it should be met with caution, though. Google Maps, but also Yahoo Maps and Bing Maps use the Mercator projection, one of the many projections created to display the earth on a flat image. Given the fact that a sphere can never be represented without distortion, developers using maps must make a decision in what projection to use. Google’s choice was the Mercator projection, perhaps most famous for its distortions around the poles. The further you veer away from the equator, the more the map stretches out. Because of this, the poles can never be shown on the map, but the angles will always be preserved. The key to using this projection is its conformal projection: zooming can occur seamlessly because of this phenomenon. So, Google has valid reasons to use the Mercator projection. While the distortion can be easily spotted on a world level, the street-level images are closer to reality because of this preservation of angles, as a Google employee points out. And since the majority of the people use Google Maps on the street detail level, Google decided they are “sticking with this projection for now”. While Google continues using the Mercator projection because it suits their needs, other problems may arise. Because of the availability of Google Maps API, it is an attractive possibility for designers to use the application in data visualizations. These users can use the maps for anything they want, obscuring Google’s original goals and control over its limitations. How does that play out?

When data is implemented on a city level, no harm by any map projection issue is done. Online newspaper The Bay Citizen created a map of San Francisco Bay Area, projecting bike accidents over a four-year period onto a map. Using a combination of predefined Google icons and a self-allocated color scheme, the visualization is a useful tool in finding where bike accidents occur more frequently. Another example, but on a country level, is the Syria Incident Tracker. Using official news reports, it displays the amount of crimes like murders and abductions on a map of Syria. The effect of map projections is still negligible, since Syria’s size is average compared to other countries.

Market research firm TeleGeography introduced a map, showing a range of submarine communications cables laid out on our ocean floors. Here, when the human eye automatically starts comparing distances of cables, we encounter the major problem of the Mercator projection: the distortion of scale. Compare for instance the ‘blue’ cable between Norway and Svalbard, and the ‘green’ cable from Hawaii to French Polynesia. At first glance, they might seem just as long. Clicking on the lines reveals the truth though: while the Norwegian line is 2,714 km long, the French Polynesian line is actually 4.500 km. A relevant project is Dencity, by Fathom Information Design. It is a map displaying the world population, using both circle size and color to indicate the density of the people and their congregation in major cities. While the visualization is aesthetically appealing, one could wonder what the effects of using a distorted map projection are when observing the northern countries. A fine tool to grasp the distortion is the Google Maps Distance Calculator by Daft Logic, who also dived into the Google Maps API to create this tool. Try drawing a line near the equator, and then a similar sized line near the top of Greenland. It unveils the trickery of a map projection; one that is unavoidable but important to take in consideration when your visualization is based on perception and first impressions.

For whatever reason, an evil-doer can tamper with data visualizations – either through adjustments in the data, or in the visualization. One can also unknowingly be the victim of errors – again either in the data or the visuals. Creating a visualization where distance is a decisive factor, demands a comprehension of the map that is being used. If we look at this issue in a wider perspective, we can describe a map as a cultural object, and should be dealt with as such. Neurath’s work showed that a universal language should be approached in a reductionist fashion: humans come in all shapes and colors in real life, but become simple a simple black figure distinguished merely by head and limbs. Using a detailed, cultural artifact to indicate an abstract factor like distance can lead to the aforementioned problems. Still, Google Maps offers great possibilities in the field of data visualization, but as the earlier mentioned Google response expressed: for a true representation, one should turn to Google Earth. Many designers building data visualizations already agreed on this and used globe-like images to display the planet. A good example is this tool to superimpose the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill size onto other locations. The use of Google Maps would not work here, unless the size of the spill adjusts to the stretching of the projection. Therefore, the use of Google Earth here is an understandable decision. Another example is a comparison of these two projects: using either Google Earth or Google Maps to visualize tweets. It presents us with some food for thought: a seemingly ‘natural’ object like a map must be used with caution, because it can unintentionally affect a sign that seemed so undisputed.


  • Engelhardt, Yuri. “Graphics with a cause – Neurath, Rosling, and the universal principles of visual representations”. 2012.
  • Neurath, Otto. “Visual Education: A New Language“. Survey Graphic, vol. 26, no. 1 (January, 1937), p. 25.

One of my favourite philosophical themes is the the notion of nation, and how nations are created. Some argue they have been around forever, but currently the academic consensus rests on the idea that the concept of nation, or nationhood, was created during the Industrial Revolution partly as a kind of parasitical response to the faltering position of religion.

Benedict Anderson

Benedict Anderson (right) is a guy who wrote a fairly optimistic and fascinating book on this subject called “Imagined Communities”.

In the rest of the post I will attempt to describe the position of weblogs within Mr. Anderson’s discourse.


<update> See bottom of the post and the comments </ update>

About a week ago there was a small-scale furor on this blog and a Nettime-NL thread surrounding the spinplant. Laura (one of the very creative members of this blog) wrote a Wikipedia entry on the fictional plant, complete with a taxonomic category and a high-resolution photo. The article was deleted within the hour.

While this was basically a good thing for Wikipedia – a kind of anti-Siegenthaler moment – the reason given for the deletion was not. It turns out that the Wikipedian responsible simply queried ‘spinplant’, found no corresponding hits in Google, and that was that. Soon critics brought up the question: what happens when an encyclopedia relies so heavily on a commercial search engine, especially one with worrying censorship ‘issues’? When it comes to Wikipedia, or even Web knowledge more generally, does Google deal in capital-T truth?

In short, my answer is no. Firstly, it is unfair to tag the Wikipolice as lazy or uninformed. Anyone who spends their free time reverting bad edits on Wikipedia cannot but hold ‘exhaustiveness’ as a virtue.

Second, and more importantly, Google does not deal in truth at all. Like the cognitivists, the search engine giant has taken the pragmatic view that truth is immaterial – relevance is where it’s at.


So I was browsing this fantastic cat picture site when I found delicious links to similar projects, such as this one on presidents and more importantly, this one on theorists.

foucault discursive regimes

It features Deleuze, Foucault, even Henry Jenkins. He caught wind of the site and commented on it in his blog:

And to my astonishment, yours truly has become a favorite target in this new academic pass-time. My students have long considered my face an icon upon which they can test their emerging mash-up and remixing skills so I am delighted to see these practices extended into the culture at large. Anything which will further the cause of participatory culture.

Click (more…) for some of my favourites


In this review, Howard Rheingold’s vision on the future of communication and interaction is explained, as layed out in his book ‘Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution’, 2002.

Rheingold noted that SMS has been used for dating in teenage culture but also for the mobilization of big groups; for example in the overthrowing of the Filipinian government in 2001 or the goal orientedness of the protests in Seattle. Instead of just seeing SMS as a technology in his book, Rheingold takes you on a journey to discover the broader system that enables such a seemingly simple medium to have such a profound impact on society.

Three observations are at the basis of Rheingold’s book:

  1. There are ever smaller, more powerful, and cheaper computational devices,
  2. There is more and more ‘always on’ wireless communication to, and connectivity between, these devices,
  3. The people using them constitute and live in social networks which can be easily accessed anytime at any place, through these devices.

Rheingold’s central thesis is that the combination of these three offers people a new way to combine their knowledge and energy. This then gives rise to Smart Mobs: ad-hoc self organizing networks of people in the technosphere, capable of collective action. In his book he looks at how people interact with, and through, close-by and invisible ubiquitous technologies like the Internet, mobile phones, wireless and the web. He extrapolates from his observations and goes on a quest to get wiser. He foresees that the possibility to add wireless communication in every device will be another shift in the way people will interact with each other.

Bomb (yes taken from Wikipedia, no not a neologism)In a couple of the previous posts on MoM we announced that we were adding the term ‘Shocklog’ to the English Wikipedia. Why? Well, the term is used often in the field of Media Studies and genre specific blogs need to have a name. But since last week our entry has been removed (again). Wikipedia doesn’t allow neologisms and because shock + log = neologism, there will be no shocklog entry on Wikipedia. So why did it get deleted?


Hoe makkelijk is het om berichten op de Nederlandse variant van Wikipedia te plaatsen? Wie bekijkt de nieuw aangemaakte pagina’s? Wat is waarheid volgens Wikipedia? Met deze vragen in het achterhoofd heb ik op woensdag 26 september een pagina over de Spinplant of Bossius Rodricus aangemaakt. Voor de aandachtige lezer, nee, deze plantensoort bestaat niet. Het idee hier achter was om uit te vinden hoe lang het duurt voordat een pagina over een niet-bestaand onderwerp wordt ‘gevonden’ en wat hier dan mee wordt gedaan.

Since the launch of Second Life (SL) by Linden Lab in 2003 it has attracted the attention of many Chinese users. Despite the popularity of SL in China and partly because SL has never been officially launched in China, their have been several efforts by Chinese companies to launch a similar (or another Web 2.0 copy?) concept for a primarily Chinese audience. In this brief analysis I will try to create an overview of the current situation of Chinese virtual worlds and initiatives. I will do this by describing two of the most relevant virtual worlds that currently exist in Beta: Hipihi (hi-pee-hi) and Novoking. Both parties are in Beta stage and have announced their virtual world’s big bang (commercial release) to take place next year.

The analysis of the two virtual worlds will contain the following aspects:
1. History and background information
2. Descriptions of first impressions and experiences of the virtual world

Finally I will try to make a judgement based on originality, usability and accessibility; what virtual world will become the ‘Tudou‘ of all virtual worlds in China?

I will start of with the current market leader and ‘oldest’ Chinese virtual world: Hipihi

History and background

Hipihi logoAs mentioned above, Hipihi is the current market leader in China. The company was founded in Beijing October 2005 by Hui Xu. The first Beta version of the virtual world was launched March 2007. Even though Hipihi is still in Beta, it has grown from 10.000 in-world residents in June 2007 to an in-world population of nearly 30.000 in October 2007. Hipihi is expected to go live (public Beta testing) at the end of November 2007. Hui Xu, the founder and CEO of Hipihi is no newbie in the new media business; he is an experienced ‘Chinese Internet Hero’ and has been the chairman of several successful e-commerce and online recruitment websites.

Xu’s e-commerce background has proven to result in some interesting strategic choices. On the 11th of October this year, Hipihi has announced a partnership with Millions of Us, inc., an American company that builds virtual worlds from the ground up and assists in brand-building for real world clients in virtual spaces. The partnership is designed to help global brands reach Chinese customers through the virtual world of Hipihi.

Inside Hipihi

Based on my own and and other peoples experiences a brief description of the actual feel and possibilities of the Hipihi world will be made. Since Linden Labs was the first company to have launched a successful virtual world which received plenty of attention, it seems that it has set the standard for the next virtual worlds. It doesn’t necessarily mean that all virtual worlds following SL are an exact copy, but as I have noticed during my research it turns out that most of the options and usability features Hipihi has to offer, feel suspiciously common.

The beginning of Hipihi is pretty straightforward; you download and install the software package (48.6 MB) you pick an avatar, dress it up, change the looks to your likings and off you go; exploring a completely new world! The first impression of Hipihi is that it feels like more of the same; Hipihi offers most of the orientation functionality’s that are available in SL: walking, running, flying, driving all sorts of vehicles etc. Also the graphics are quite similar to those in SL. Furthermore users are able to chat, perform a whole range of funny actions and, naturally, are able to create all their own objects. Something that Novoking nor SL offers: every new inhabitant receives a piece of land covering 100x100m for free! This might attract new users but there is also a group of people that share the opinion that people often don’t value free stuff.

Commercialisation of Hipihi

An element in which Hipihi is truly differentiating from SL is its effort for an increased accessibility: by offering plenty of pre-fabricated objects it will be easier for in-experienced users to live in the virtual world. The more sophisticated users can use advanced setting and tools to build more complicated and customized objects.

The biggest problem I (and other Beta users) have encountered during my stroll through the new world is that there are not enough people ‘living’ in the virtual world yet; it feels empty and deserted, especially compared with hectic cities like Shanghai and Beijing! Combined with a search system that still contains bugs and is not thoroughly worked out yet, this resulted in a rather disappointing experience.

Also when first entering Hipihi I expected to bump into a virtual world that was heavily influenced by Chinese or at least Asian culture, but this did not seem the case. Most of the public buildings, houses, vehicles and even avatars look surprisingly western and familiar. I think there are 2 reasons for this.
First of all when looking at the strategic positioning of Hipihi as a platform it is not particularly aimed at a Chinese or Asian audience; it is supposed to be a global platform. As stated on their website the target group is: ‘residents with different colours and of different races from different parts of the real world.’

The second possible reason for the western Look and feel has to do with the whole change China is going through. As I have experienced myself travelling through and living in China for almost 8 months, residents want to look like, act like and live like western (wealthy) people. All that youngsters want to wear, use, eat and so on are western products. The new generation of Chinese is dreaming of a wealthy, western lifestyle which is very well illustrated by the way Hipihi advertises the possibilities of its virtual world where everything is possible: ‘imagine when Coca-Cola is placed in the hands of each resident’. Paradoxically this makes the virtual world very Chinese indeed. So at first glance the new virtual world does not seem Chinese at all, but what is concidered typical Chinese? When taking a closer look at Hipihi the following aspects that are very relevant and Chinese in the modern Chinese society caught my attention:

1. Transportation of all kinds are very prominent. Transportation stands for freedom but also, more important for the Chinese society, it stands for economic development.

2. In an advertisement for Hipihi I came across the following line: ‘when schools are handling all kinds of procedures’. The makers of Hipihi are subtlely pointing at the future possibilities of a virtual educational system. This is closely related to the current educational situation and class struggle in China where it is still a privilige to get a proper education. In developing countries education is often people their only chance of escaping poverty.

3. Hipihi mentions information about virtual economies and even touches political matters: ‘even a business model which can not be achieved in the real world will be born right here.’ To me this clearly points to the shortcomings of the current Chinese society and goverment. Also the words glamour and profit are used extensively to point out the endless possibilities of the new world. Glamour and profit are words that are not very common in a communistic society and if they are used it has a negative connotation. The choice for these specific words are an indication for the transformation and struggle China is going through; socialsm vs kapitalism.

4. A final element that does make the Hipihi world Chinese is the fact that the Beijing 2008 olympic games are very visible and present in the virtual world.

So Hipihi has turned out to be very Chinese after all, even though this was not intended when you look at at the strategy! For the near future it will be interesting to see how the Chinese governemt will react on the virtual world especialy concerning the profit making and political matters. When taking in account the past restrictions and censureship I think political interference will be inevitable.

The second virtual world that I will review is Novoking, which has launched its private beta test in the beginning of October this year. Even though there is no English version available yet, Novoking has translated parts of its website in (poor) English.

History and background

NovokingNovoking was founded in October 2005 bij Patrick Zha. Through the years Patrick (CEO of Novoking Technology Ltd. Co) has gained extensive experience in business and sales, particularly in the software branch. The mission Patrick has, is to build the largest 3D Chinese virtual world that allows users to create, build, communicate and live their dream through the bytes.

In the beginning of October 2007 Novoking started testing it’s Beta version of the virtual world by admitting 500 people into the new world. The Novoking team of 50 developers that have been working on the ‘game’ since 2005 have announced they will soon roll out 1.000 more Beta accounts, but as mentioned above, unfortunately there is no English version available yet.

Inside Novoking

By far the biggest problem that I and most of the other foreign users have encountered is, logically, the language barrier, but random clicking has proven to be effective for most of the pop-up screens and forms. Even though there have been plenty of non-Mandarin speakers before me that did get the program running through extensive teamwork and browsing in plenty related forums, unfortunately I was not able to get it started. Because I really wanted to have a look in Novoking I contacted a certain ‘Jolly’ that works for ideashape.cn. Ideashape.cn is a self preclaimed third party of Novoking and acts as a support site for English speaking users. Jolly lives in China, he has been active in Novoking for a while now and he was kind enough to answer all my questions about novoking through MSN!

After chatting with Jolly for a while it became clear to me that unlike Hipihi, where users are expected to create their own world from scratch, the people at Novoking have prepared a world before users were able to show up. Before the first beta tester was able to set foot in the brand new virtual world, a trading centre, a park, plenty of clothing shops, a shopping mall, entertainment facilities, several restaurants and so on were waiting to be ‘used’ for the first time.

Novoking; very ChineseIt seems to me that compared to SL and Hipihi, Novoking’s emphasise is not primarely on a user generated world and strategy but more on, among others, the slightly higher quality of the graphics, usability and overall accessibility. The screenshots that I have seen indicate that Novoking has put a little more emphasise on the graphics compared to Hipihi and that it has tried to create a pre-fabricated atmosphere and feel in its world.
So where Hipihi is trying to make its virtual world more accessible by offering pre-fabricated objects, Novoking takes it one step further. It is hoping to attract an even less experienced crowd compared to Hipihi by providing users not only with all sorts of pre-fabricated objects but also with a completely pre-designed world. The Novoking developers have expressed that they aim for training and educating users along the way of exploration. The downside of this approach is the size of the initial download that is required: 334 MB (almost 10 times bigger than SL and over 6 times that of Hipihi’s required download).

A new feature that truly differentiates Novoking from SL and Hipihi is that it allows users to upload their own content created in Photoshop, 3DMax and Maya. So besides aiming for just the ‘newbies’ the developers at Novoking have left plenty of room for the more experienced content creators too.

Another aspect in which Novoking differs with Hipihi is that it is not trying to position itself as a platform for an international audience; there is no real global intention (yet). Novoking clearly focusses more on Chinese users instead of a worldwide audience. But since Novoking is a bit younger than Hipihi they might soon roll out their global strategy anyway.

To sum it all up Novoking is trying to wheel in a less experienced and mainly Chinese audience by offering higher accessibility but also by making use of better looking graphics and a pre-manufactured world.


After these reviews it becomes clear that even though in first sight Hipihi and Novoking look quite similar (ordinary copies of SL?), they differ in a lot of ways. They differ not only from SL but they also differ from each other.

In general when discussing the accessibility of the two worlds Novoking can be considered the most simple and accessible for in-experienced newbie avatars. Not only does Novoking offer a pre-fabricated world, it has also less features and offers pre-fabricated objects. In close second though, comes Hipihi which has also learned from SL its faults (buggy engine, steep learning curve, high technical barrier etc.) and has tried to attract users by offering plenty of pre-fabricated objects and less features. So what world will eventually attract the biggest audience?

Both worlds have a different strategy and have different ideas on the creation of a tipping point for user generated content. Hipihi believes in total freedom and is hoping that users will choose for their world because of the endless features combined with a simplified usability compared to SL. Novoking’s strategy is different; they think people will appreciate even less features than Hipihi, combined with a pre-fabricated world. But they also serve the more experienced audience by giving them a chance to integrate popular 3D graphics software like Maya and 3DMax. So Hipihi bets his money on the almost 100% user generated content environment while Novoking uses a ‘gentle push’ tactic to get the people running as quick as possible and hopes to inspire users with a more plug and play world.

Personally I think there is a market for both worlds in China so the question of who will become the SL of China is not so relevant in this case. After this review I think they both serve a different audience and don’t neccisarily have to compete with eachother, at least not in the near future.

I would like to finish with discussing the real world’s political environment that the virtual worlds were born in. Both worlds will face a complicated job considering the current governmental situation. As Xu from Hipihi has already stated: “we can make sure that pornography, gambling, violence or politically sensitive material will be strictly forbidden.” The people at Novoking have expressed something similar: “in accordance with Chinese regulations, our world’s economy will necessarily be a closed one.” Nobody knows exactly how virtual worlds will develop in China, but as a Web 2.0 enthousiast I think it is worth to keep an eye on!

More sources on Hipihi:

More sources on Novoking:

Bruce Sterling delivered the futurist goods at this weekend’s lean but excellent conference You Me and Everyone We Know is a Curator. Here’s a transcription of the entire delivery typed up as best I could, but it still doesn’t transmit Sterling’s oratorical flare. This seductive and prophetic keynote speech – refreshingly without powerpoint – set an urgent framework for the rest of the lineup, which I’ll write more about soon.

Bruce Sterling: Gothic Chic in the Future Favela

The next decade we’re entering into the teens. It’s a decade inhabited by digital natives, rather than digital revolutionaries, though this is something that has already happened. It’s already behind us, after 1989,when we switched from analogue to digital, from actual to virtual, from scientific to user-centric, local to global, multinationals to financial moguls.

Most of my life has been spent talking about this change. This next decade is in the hands of people who don’t care about that. They don’t know what a typewriter ribbons was. They don’t remember older ways of doing things abolished by these revolutions. Digital natives are growing up in a depression, when banks make people poor, and healthcare makes people sick. Digital natives never have to be told to digitize anything. The hardware is all around. Their immediate response is to grab for a mobile or a laptop.

The driving forces of the digital revolution continue and intensify, but there is no previous order left to rebel against. We don’t get a digital new world order. Digital culture is too fluid and inherently destabilizing, there are too many small pieces to join, and it’s always in beta form. The digital is a tool, but not a tool that interest groups can use to advance their own interests. We don’t get prosperity or governance from it. It’s not a force for good or ill but a phenomenon like electrification, the railroad, or other transformative infrastructures. Railroad natives were bored to death by people who explained railroads as if they were impressive. They’re just there once they’re there.

Now we need to comprehend the teens…today. My intuition is that the teens offer two categories of historical experience. What’s it like? Gothic high tech and favela chic. These two cultural sensibilities are not here yet.

Gothic high tech is the analogue past, It’s the industrial order with enormous holes and absences, with dead areas formerly thriving but that have been undercut or disintermediated, or digitally layered over or off-shored or abandoned. They no longer pay or socially function. They are ruins. In the graphics world they’re obvious: analogue graphics, letter set, hand-letter typed fonts, scissors, glue, type setting machines, books, magazines, print media, and the early digital media of 80s and 90s, stuck on abandoned websites and dead social networks. No one is in charge; it’s visibly decaying. Megatons of it, irrelevant, incapable of restoration, the walking dead…the House of Usher.

This will worry us. Rot was caused by the fact that you are super high tech. These are the consequence of the transition. The transition has torn money out of the system faster than wealth was generated. You are the curator of conditions of gentile poverty. The curator repurposes it; the heritage industrialist, the cultural industrialist, the knowledge worker of a dysfunctional heritage have awesome access, but are broke. The European cultural experience becomes the global experience. Amsterdam’s industrial shipping infrastructure has become a tourist attraction. Repurposed city centers are now common in Europe; they are shrink-wrapped ruins of Chinese restaurants, Braziliian night clubs, the spear heads of globalization. High-tech gothic.

It’s not conservative or backwards looking to say the basic means of production are cut and paste. This enables one to skip the boring parts that require original thought from scratch. No blank page is already blank.

Favela chic takes the logic of software and networks and applies them to institutions no matter what they are. It’s like taking a mac laptop and using it to hammer in nails. It represents the promise of change, instead of making do with overused stuff. It makes sense to young people and idealists. It’s consistent and easy to grasp. The problem is that over time, it tends to be squalid. It is user centric rather than planned. It’s made of small pieces joined: beta, open source rather than refined by competition. It pastes over institutional failngs with utopian rhetoric. Time reveals its slipshod cheesiness and cheapness, its poor engineering. Electronic democracy is about blogs, spam, flame wars, rather than the responsible participation in society. Sharing music means destroying the music industry. Digital artisanship means precarious employment. Dot com starts ups means existing monopolies on the ground and occupational forces that can’t establish functional governments. E-banking means financial panics. It’s endearing but flawed. It can’t take yes for an answer, which would imply building something solid instead of the next favela. It can’t acknowledge downsides. The universal forces of time and entropy apply to their labor. Revolutionaries are allergic to continuity. Digital culture will need critical reassessment in about five or seven years from now.

For people in museums this is more problematic. Because it’s more about irruption. We should scan all of our museum holdings and put them online, but now no one comes through our doors. How can we pay to maintain our website? The favela chic response is to just change the subject.

Mackenzie said the mobile internet is gonna be twice as big as the laptop revolution. The logical step isn’t to create a workable public order but a decent civilization. The logic is to transform everything into equivalents of internet architecture. Citizens become users, laws become code, cities become urbanwear applications.

Will we become internet civilization? No, the internet is unstable. Guidebooks become old fashioned immediately. The internet has gothic high tech aspects that can’t be disguised. Whereas the museum’s purpose is to hold on in perpetuity. There is no storage method for digital data that can predictably last for fifty years. Favela chics are jargon imperialists. They say if you’re not on search engines you don’t exist.

What is the response? The Unesco Cultural Heritage, academic conferences, live events. This conference is about picking over the ruins of favela chic and pulling it into gothic high tech. The digital is going to vanish like the dot coms, unless efforts are made to snatch it back. But that’s the problem. Nothing is left to conserve. Advanced but rapidly decaying hardware is everywhere. Maybe we’ll have an internet of things?

It’s critical to understand this will pass, this period has clear issues and a victory condition. There’s a promising situation called chic favela gothic. We’ll grow into an oxymoron. Realizing contradictions open things back up. Favelas are the plant nurseries, the squats, the reunited spaces, repurposed structures. High-end, low-end, for everybody. Chic favela gothic looks like a violent contradiction of terms, but it will make sense.

In 2020 children of digital natives will be interested in their analogue grandparents, in our parents. Those living from ’45 to ’89 will be romantic to young people denied that way of life. The digital revolution will have outlived its luster. It won’t be shiny or new but fashionable to count cost and valorize painstaking, beautiful analogue things that belonged to long dead atomic ladies and gentlemen. They’ll prize analogue museum pieces for weird, wrong reasons. What does a chic favela gothic institution look like? How does it strategize? It wouldn’t want a gothic ruin, but an unprecedented, elegant combination. Everybody lives in museums, in resolving contradictions. In new forms of the old continuity.

In the digital dark ages we may lose tons of stuff. I’m worried about the death of analogue published documents, magazines, and newspapers. We may lobotomize ourselves. We may become haunted by totalitarian states that ceaselessly reinterpret the past. Actual people’s experience that are set in record then incessantly reworked. The internet lends itself to that. Things we see stored there are not really restored. We don’t have storage methods. We can have a black out that lasts years. The internet is vulnerable to all kinds of passing upsets.

There may be a tipping point where it’s easier for a social network to start a religion or a museum, rather than the other way around. We may start making printouts of our digital stuff. But I say in my book Shaping Things that design objects exist as data and only occasionally as printouts. Right now we’re doing a crap job. No social network is also doing a cool store. Deviant art could lead the art world; deviant art has tons of art and could build a Deviant Art museum. Los Angeles low-brow artists have their own curators, collectors, and distribution system. But I worry about rhetoric that valorizes this stuff. Time will not be kind.

Wednesday the 22nd of November is Election Day in The Netherlands. Which party has the most promising program for New Media scientists, New Media creators/designers, and New Media consumers? Which party will invest in New Media developers and theorists, in order to put The Netherlands on top of the technological and innovative map?

While writing a piece about the Ubiscribe event on my own blog I went to Blogger’s website. Blogger automatically localizes me based on my IP-address and welcomes me in my own language. Google does the same thing when I go to Google.com it automatically redirects me to Google.nl. Even though I can see the advantages of this I strongly dislike this automatic localizing because I go to the Google.com domain for a reason! Searching something on the Google.com or Google.nl domain gives you different search results and when I look for something that is not Dutch I rather use the Google.com domain.

There are two ways to reach the google.com domain instead of the google.nl domain:

  1. After automatic redirection to Google.nl follow the “Google.com in English link” (which is actually pretty funny because apparently you are on Google.com in Dutch instead of Google.nl.
  2. Run your search on Google.nl and then change http://www.google.nl/search?hl=nl&q=ubiscribe&meta= to http://www.google.nl/search?hl=en&q=ubiscribe&meta= (change nl for en or any other language.) This will give you the same search results as when you are on the Google.com domain.

Here are some screenshots of the different search results Google.com, Google.nl in English and Google.nl produce (the first two produce the same results).

Google.comGoogle.nl in EnglishGoogle.nl

Blogger, that has been bought by Google, also localizes me based on my IP-address but does not automatically redirect me from Blogger.com to Blogger.nl for example. I stay on the Blogger.com domain but I am welcomed in Dutch. I can see the advantage of this but I wonder if I can also “return” to the “original” English version. Blogger offers me a Taal/Language link that allows me to toggle the language of the page. More screenshots of this localizing process:


I can see the advantages of localizing (I want Google to localize me when I visit Google Maps for example. An interesting note is that maps.google.com does not automatically redirect to maps.google.nl.) but sometimes I just want to shout “Please stop localizing me!”

What are your thoughts on this automatic localizing and the localized web?

Update: 911truth.org reappeared in Google’s search returns on October 7. No explanation has been put forward yet, but this second coming has been nicely documented and visualized on the Issue Dramaturg [added 10/10/07 by Michael].

About a year ago Richard Rogers, Marieke van Dijk, and I made the Issue Dramaturg, a tool to display a site’s Google rank per query. Today, whilst preparing for the public form on Quaero I checked our query on 9/11 again. Every day we query Google for 9/11 and see which sites have what rank for that query. Normally 911truth.org has a very high rank in Google for this query. Since the 17th of September 2007 however, their rank has declined very fast. On the 20th of September 911truth.org completely disappeared from Google! 911truth.org is an important source for information about 9/11. According to Wikipedia,

[911truth.org,] The 9/11 Truth Movement is the name adopted by the loosely-connected organizations and individuals that question the mainstream account of the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States. […] The common proposition among all of the movement supporters is that what they call “the official account” of the events of 9/11 is not true, and that the truth has been covered up by high-level officials and the official investigators.

Below you can find a screenshot of the Issue Dramaturg documenting the decline in Google rank for 911truth.org:

911truth.org disappears from google

911truth.org itself says this about it:

It seems absolutely clear Google has purposefully removed 911truth.org from their search engine. Is this the same Google whose mission statement includes the goal “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Uhm, maybe only sort of universally accessible?

… Talking about a well documented case of Google censorship… I am constantly reminded why we started Open Search – a distributed peer to peer search engine which is set up to avoid search engine manipulation, censorship and profiling.

One of my favorite websites is the semi-obscure digital library known as AAAARG (don’t even try googling. You just get pirate-themed sites). The site is a sundry collection of critical documents – many of them highly treasured theoretical classics, others obscure anarchic tomes and legal texts – presented in a simple, sleek alphabetized index of .pdfs.

The idea from the beginning was that AAAARG’s collection would grow organically, since anyone can upload a text to the site. But what takes this beyond basic p2p sharing is the way the index relates to the site’s other peer features: first, a discussion page mostly featuring book requests and text uploads, and second, a page of user-made issues that cluster books around a general theme. So not only the text index, but also the classifications that organize them grow collaboratively.

Even more interesting about all this is the high quality of useful content. Which also makes it fragile (just read on).

I asked Sean Dockray, one of AAAARG’s architects and the founder of the first Public School, in LA, to have an informal, online chat with me about his project.


Good morning/evening. Took that photo about ten minutes ago.

Chinatown LA


You got it! Do you know about The Public School (TPS)? We’re having a screening on Sunday at our space. We have a rear projection screen that pulls down over the window so we can sit outside. http://la.thepublicschool.org/class/1518

So it must be warm in LA…meanwhile it’s snowing here. Yes, I found out about Public School while trying to track you down. Is there a connection between AAAARG and the Public School?

The archive part (AAAARG) sometimes generates live events (classes) at TPS,
and just as often people make collections on AAAARG to use as syllabus for Public School classes. AAAARG existed more or less in its current form five years ago. TPS just started about 2 years ago. So definitely not a connection originally…they grew into this relationship, but I think they also came out of the same place, so it’s not totally arbitrary that they’d end up in this way.

What’s your role with AAAARG?

I don’t do very much, just tighten the loose bolts and grease some gears every so often. I don’t approve anything or moderate or anything. I’m probably more like a groundskeeper. I like the self-organizing, empty aspect of AAAARG; that it is something that functions without much of my intervention.

How did AAAARG begin? Is its current state what it was originally intended it to be?

It was pretty simple at the beginning – sharing things with people who I was working with or in contact with. The community originally was tiny.

The ways that people have since figured out how to use it are very personal to them, or are communal, forming relationship with others through the site. I like that people pass it on like it’s a gift.

But as for an understanding of where it would go, I had no idea it would become so big and active in the way it is now. I didn’t expect 20,000 people to participate. Its growth has been exponential since early summer: 80% of what’s there has been contributed in the last six months or so.

Do you know what spurned the bump in activity?

I do have a theory about the bump. First, I set the site up very early to have an email called YESTERDAY so that all the texts shared and discussions started in the previous day would be mailed out.

I wrote an email one day that said this:
“Are you looking for a specific out-of-print or otherwise difficult-to-find text?
Respond to this email by June 21 with your request…AAAARG will then compile all of the requests into one batch, send it out to the mailing list and – hopefully – some one of the 3300+ subscribers will be able to find it for you. (no promises)”

And I don’t know how many requests came in, but it was in the hundreds. So I compiled a bunch of them into an email and sent it out. It was only hours before they were being fulfilled. From there, some people began using “discussions” as a way of making individual requests, with many people fulfilling requests that others make. And in the next 4 months the list went from 3300 people to 12000 people.

It’s become a really popular academic resource at this point. Given all the activity, I’m curious about its sustainability.

I don’t think it’s sustainable, but file sharing is resilient. That part is sustainable if what’s meant is something that will weather bad economies, legal threats, changes in technology, etc. AAAARG probably won’t. But I don’t think it matters; it’s not trying to be the new library. That said, I don’t think it will disappear, I don’t think anything ever does. The word promiscuity for the digital object I think is a really good one.

(Map of AAAARG’s index over a year ago, found via Open Reflections)

So what specifically is threatening the site? Is it legal problem or economic?

Verso posted a cease and desist letter yesterday, one legal threat. But mainly the problem has been economic/technological. It has no institutional support. No one has given it money. People offer to contribute money, but I always say no, which in a way supports the emphasis on sharing and distribution and exchange of knowledge.

I think AAAARG is going to be something quite different soon, especially if the cost goes up to $200/month, or if a flood of cease and desist letters come in. The other cease and desist letter was from OMA, Koolhaas. Two letters in five years, is really remarkable I think. I mean I totally understand why there’s been so little protest: as someone who has written a couple things for magazines or in book chapters, I want people to read them!

I think pdf readers are going to be another real problem because they will demonstrate that pdfs are a market, a useful copy of the real thing. (parenthetically, I love when people upload highly personalized scans. I much prefer these to fresh ebooks). As ebook readers demonstrate a market, then sites like AAAARG become intolerable because they sit right in the middle of that market and maybe demonstrate how that market is built through the production of scarcity and highly controlled supply. But like I said it never goes away. People have been scanning and sharing books for a long time.

And what now that you’ve received the Verso letter?

My response was “Of course we’ll comply. Cease and desist letters are no joke, especially when backed by 3 million per year in sales.” I’m in the camp that it’s not only about copyright, so I’m not going to refuse to budge. It’s about sharing and exchange of knowledge, so if someone asks that I take it down, I will. But I wish it were the author who would ask. I prefer to think more about the desires of authors and readers. Publishers have other stakes.

AAAARG can be analyzed both from a copyright angle – who else is getting away with sharing copyrighted material on the web? and from a peer exchange perspective, the network that grew around it. But it’s the way these issues are related that could be interesting to analyze more…

There’s obviously nothing natural about property, copyright, restrictions placed on distribution, etc. The kind of sharing that people find themselves wanting to engage in, if it becomes normalized, can suggest possibilities for other ways of thinking about these things (which don’t always rely on cease and desist letters, defensive postures, and territoriality).

That’s why I’m also more enthusiastic about taking a positive approach to all of this – its not about fighting copyright or standing up to publishers or something, because at the root of it all, I hope we’re all on the same side, which is to say that we’re interested in the dissemination of ideas, in the possibilities for them to change the way people think and to help imagine a better world, and so on. We look for opportunities to together develop theories and ways of understanding the really complicated situation that we’re in.

Several authors have written in support. A lot of authors aren’t exactly happy by the artificial scarcity imposed by academic publishing, and it’s not like they see a whole lot of money from it either.

Do you have any intention for AAAARG that hasn’t yet been realized? It’s interesting to speculate what it could become, if it could grow unfettered.

What do you think?

Well, it seems conversations could grow around texts, and that would create another archive of discussions, and maybe people would want to exchange videos, audio, etc.

You know there used to be a lot more discussion about texts. It used to be harder to post new things. That was made easier, and then there was less discussion! In an interview with Julian Myers on the SFMOMA blog I said that I felt that the act of sharing itself constituted a kind of conversation. Focusing too much on the comments leads to a reductive idea of conversation, although I have visited sites with great comments.

The issues section instead becomes a kind of conversation, because people add texts into other people’s issues. Also it is a way to articulate your own argument through selection, omission, etc. The “shared issues” are less predicated on “here is my collection” and more on “I wish there was this collection, but I don’t know what would go in it”. That moves it to something before the presentation/ exhibition/ publication stage — to the earlier, discursive stage.

Which the archive has the potential now to conflate, as Wikipedia does with each article’s editing history pages. You have both an potentially mutable object and a record of its process.

It’s there that knowledge is produced in relation to lots of other people and texts, through conversation; then it often gets flattened and crystallized into singular authorship by the time it is pushed into a “public” form.

The Unix philosophy is not something I think a lot about, but I thought of it with respect to discussion. From Wikipedia: “small is beautiful” and “make each program do one thing well”. I’m not keen on the authority of how these statements are written, but I guess it goes back to what I was saying about being ok with AAAARG losing some of its discussion as the sharing became easier. Don’t mistake it for my philosophy, but I do think that small things put into relation with one another are interesting.

Oh, and you’d asked “what future do you foresee for AAAARG?” more a’s! ha.

Watching the Mark Foley scandal make its way from a newspaper blog to political blogs to the front pages of major newspapers, I was intrigued with how various actors got involved (and by actors I mean places, things, terms as well as people). I started wondering if there was a way to measure the effect on perceptions of these related issues/persons/etc.


With new smart phones and GPS tracking, it’s possible to find and locate the position of other smart phones and the human body that goes with it. But is this legal? Does privacy still exist? Japanese women apparently don’t care about privacy; they just want to know why their boyfriend is late for dinner for the fourth time this month. Luckily there is an app for them now!

On 30th of august an android app called Kare Log (Boyfriend Log) was launched by a Japanese app developer named Manuscript. This app is allowing the owner of the software to track smartphone GPS data via their PC or smartphone. This app localizes the position of the smartphone, remaining battery life and call history. So if a boyfriend (or girlfriend) were cheating, the phone’s location would reveal his whereabouts, the battery life info would cancel the: “I’m sorry my phone was out of juice excuse” and the information in the call history would instantly reveal the person he or she is seeing.

Obviously the complaints were huge and not only boyfriends were upset but even the Japanese government started asking questions. The biggest party who opposed the app was antivirus software developer McAfee who said: “this app is a potentially unwanted program or PUP, because it acts like spyware and does not show itself clearly on the smartphone. Developer Manuscript updated Kare Log and now it was displayed on the smartphone running the app. In Japan it is legal to track the location of a smartphone as long as an individual sign up for this service. Eventually Manuscript pulled the app and published a public excuse on their website stating:

“We were still a largely unknown company, so I thought that we could grab attention by focusing on anti-cheating programs, but we went too far,” Manuscript’s President Yoshinori Miura said. “I didn’t think we get so much criticism.”

But what about the Find My Friends app released by Apple on the new iOS 5? Find My Friends was announced during the Apple keynote on October 4, 2011.  With Find My Friends, users can follow people and track where their iOS device is. Users can also share their location with the people they choose. Location is determined using GPS and notifications appear when a user requests another user to see where they are. This feature can be turned of or on at any time. Find My Friends synchronizes with other application such as Maps and Contacts.

A few days after the release of Find My Friends a user on MacRumors.com posted an entry on how he turned his wife’s iPhone into a what he calls: spyPhone.

“I got my wife a new 4s and loaded up find my friends without her knowing. She told me she was at her friend’s house in the east village. I’ve had suspicions about her meeting this guy who lives uptown. Lo and behold, Find my Friends has her right there. I just texted her asking where she was and the dumb ***** said she was on 10th Street!! Thank you Apple, thank you App Store, thank you all. These beautiful treasure trove of screen shots going to play well when I meet her at the lawyer’s office in a few weeks. Thankfully, she’s the rich one.”

The problem with these kinds of apps is that supposedly all your friends say yes to your request, because they are your friends and if they would say no they are probably hiding something. Here is an example of how you might use it:

Me:              “where is John? My party started 1 hour ago!”
Friend:        “He just called. He said he is on his way here.”
Me:              “Really? Because according to this app he is still behind his TV.”

It seems that we are approaching a moment with smart phones that we reached a few years back with computers in general. For years spyware was available to users who wanted to spy on loved ones and friends. Now it’s even closer and not only on our computer but also our smart phones. There are also positive sides to these applications like parental control and when your phone is stolen it’s a tool to get your phone back.

Do we gradually move towards a society of self-surveillance? With millions of people on Facebook feeding companies information about themselves the next step is your location. Facebook already owns the present, with Timeline they want to own the past. Maybe they can own the future as well. With your GPS information in their database it won’t be difficult to find a pattern and thus predicting your next move. Christian Fuchs talks about Surveillance 2.0 on Facebook in his article: New Media, Web 2.0 and surveillance:

“Web 2.0 surveillance is a form of surveillance that exerts power en domination by making use of specific qualities of the contemporary Internet, such as user-generated content and permanent dynamic communication flows. It can be characterized as a system of panoptic sorting, mass self-surveillance and personal mass dataveillance. Facebook is a prototype example of web 2.0 surveillance that serves economic ends.”

It is amazing that location based apps like Kare log and Find My Friends have such an impact on our lives. A video currently making the rounds about a baby so used to playing with iPads, thinks a magazine is “broken”.

This opens up a discussion of how technology transforms us and how this changes our own biological OS. So what about the apps mentioned above? Will these surveillance apps transform how we operate as well? The baby in the video expects a magazine page to be interactive; will we start expecting our friends to be constantly available to us? We almost expect everyone to have a social media account, are we going to expect everyone to volunteer their location at all time to us too? If a friend chooses NOT to be tracked, will we assume they are up to no good? I’m afraid we are more and more turning into a distrusting surveillance society and that can’t be good thing.

This question is inspired with a discussion I had this afternoon on IRC with my fellow Utopians. I believe there is already some literature out there about the trustworthiness of information on wikipedia. Below I will paste the chat (slightly edited). Since this issue strikes at the heart of what we study, it’d be neat if we could discuss about it in either the comments or in class. We may be able to change some mindsets at the University of Victoria! :)


In the Masters of Media class we’ve been trying out Writely.com for a couple of assignments in the past weeks. Not so long ago the online word processor was acquired by Google. The idea is very promising: “Share documents instantly & collaborate in realtime.” So we decided to take it for a test-drive, but so far all attempts have failed to create one united, democratic post. Here is my view on why the Web 2.0 application falls short on the collaborative aspects, and causes more frustration than collaboration.

Update: Writely was just renamed and integrated into Google Docs and Spreadsheets.



One of the great things about web 2.0 is making free phone calls to friends all over the world. Just turn on one of the programs that offer this service, make sure your friend is online too, and make the call. And it’s also possible to call for a lot less the amount that you used to, to a regular phone or mobile phone.
According to my own preferences I really like to use Skype. It’s easy, free, and almost all my friends use it too. But after some articles I read about Skype having a backdoor and not being all that safe, I decided to look for an alternative to call and talk with my friends for free. To my surprise there are loads of other programs out there that offer the same service.

Some examples:
Gizmo project
Google talk

And on a rainy afternoon, I decided to just try some of them, to find out what’s the difference, and more important, which one is a good alternative for Skype?

* VoIPbuster: Their slogan sounds promising: If you like Skype, you will love the Voipbuster. As a Mac user I’m redirected to another page to download the program, Windows users are probably their most common users. The website is in Dutch, with some English explainations on it. Looking at the website the Voipbuster all of a sudden doesn’t sound so promising anymore. But don’t judge the book by its cover. After making an account you are redirected to the page to buy ‘credits’. So this isn’t a free service! Or is it? The website is really messy and it is even not clear how to download the program for Mac users. I have an account now but no program. After five minutes of going through the site I decided this isn’t my program for sure.

* Gizmo Project: Getting started is really easy. Just download the program and register. The program itself looks a lot like Skype again. A messenger service with group chat, easy to call people and not really something new. But according to the website there is a lot more to explore with Gizmo that i haven’t seen yet. Call recordings, map of the location of the caller and sound effects. It looks promising but I’m not convinced. It looks like a lot of extras that are unnecessary. Nice but not for me.
Gizmo interface


* Jajah: When you first enter the site it looks like you only have to fill in two telephone numbers and you can call right away. Maybe that’s the case, but only when you have a landline, which I don’t. So, I have to find another way to use Jajah. After viewing the demo and clicking around I found out this isn’t really such a good service. It’s only free when you use a landline and your friend is a Jajah user too. Otherwise you have to pay. And it’s not cheaper than using your regular phone. When I call with my mobile via Jajah to another mobile number in the Netherlands, it still costs me 29.6 cents. So Jajah,…. Nonoh!

* WengoPhone: Opensource software to make free pc to pc video and voice calls. The software is really easy to download and install afterwards. The interface looks almost exactly like Skype. It also has an option to send sms messages. Unfortunately I couldn’t test the application because there is not an option for a try-out call and I have no contacts yet. So far this seems like a good alternative for Skype.

* SightSpeed: The application took very long to download.
sightspeedAnd no, that wasn’t my connection. After the installation you have to change some settings and than the program is ready to use. The program doesn’t look so flashy like Skype. But it works really well. There is even an option to record video mails and messages to put on your blog. When you make a call you can record the call. The only disadvantages are the advertisements during a call and the fact that there isn’t an option to chat. But for making just phone calls this is my favorite! But now I have to convince other people to use the program too.

After trying five I quit. Sightspeed is really nice, but not a lot of people use the program. So either way I have to convince people to start using the program or just stick with the old one. Skype may have a backdoor, it’s still the most userfriendly way to call other people over the internet.

The Thomas Jefferson of the wired generation. That’s one of the tittles political activist writer, poet and Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow got after he in 1996 forwarded his “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” around the world. This text was a reaction to the enactment of the Communications Decency Act in 1996. In this declaration Barlow warned all governments that cyberspace was “naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us….Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are based on matter. There is no matter here.” According to Barlow in 1996 cyberspace was a place where there would be no place for politics and rules as implied in ‘the real world’. The internet would be outside existing country boarders and would create it’s own rules and social contracts to determine how it would overcome it’s problems.

John Perry Barlow’s declaration can be seen as a critique towards governmental interference in cyberspace. He sees an utopian Internet in witch users are able to create their own rules and laws without restrictions or political interference. When I read this declaration for the first time I immediately thought of the role that large companies and corporations nowadays take on the internet when it comes to policy and rule making. At video vortex I already saw an interesting presentation on legal protocols on the web by Peter Westenberg.(a stream of the lecture can be seen here) In this lecture Westenberg showed the amount of changes that were made in You Tube’s terms of agreement within the last two years. Westenberg showed that within this period of time You Tube’s terms of agreement where almost completely rewritten. He also pointed out that when signing the terms of agreement we grant you tube the right to rewrite these terms. We agree that the terms of agreement can change all the time and by doing so we agree to agree to these new rewritten automatically (When thinking about these terms rationally you wouldn’t agree, agree?)

Westenberg pointed out that people don’t really care about these terms of agreement because they want to use the service that a certain company (in this case You Tube) provides. Users don’t mind living up to rules and obeying certain terms of agreement as long as they get access to the programs they signed up for. This gives the online companies and corporations a huge power on how people act online. The online environment I want to analyze keeping this in mind is Habbo Hotel. I chose this environment because it has a set of strict rules and regulations and butt still attracts a lot of young children are drawn towards it and accept these terms. On the one hand Habbo looks like a playful online environment butt on the other hand the rules, regulations and terms of agreement or pretty strict.
habbo registreren
Habbo Hotels are localized communities where millions of children in the age of 8 to 18 every day meet. Ever since the lounge of the first Habbo hotel in 2000 in Finland the internet PC game has opened the world of e-communication to children. According to Sulake (the online entertainment company that runs Habbo) there are 80.000.000 registered users and the hotel has more than 6.000.000 unique visitors every month that spend an average time of 30 minutes on the site. Habbo at the moment has 31 different local communities. On the site users or able to build their own characters (Habbo’s), chat, make friends, exchange Habbo furniture and buy Habbo credits to be able to buy furniture to decorate their Habbo rooms. Habbo is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing virtual worlds and social networking services for teenagers. According to Wikipedia “the game is also centered around The Habbo Way, which are the standards and rules which all Habbo players are expected to follow, or face a ban from accessing the hotel for a certain amount of time. Players are urged to report any breach of it using a system which notifies the hotel’s moderators (Hobba’s).

When creating your own Habbo there are only pre-selected choices of how it can look. There is a high homogeneity between the different male and female Habbo’s. There are different rooms within the Habbo Hotel. A couple of these rooms are pretty hard to get in unless if you are a Habbo Club Member (a feature you have to pay for). The level of equality between the Habbo’s is based on the amount of money they seem to pay. In the Hotel there are also strict rules about the language that one can use. Swearing words etc. are being replaced by the word Bobba threw ‘the Bobba filter’. (This filter was shut down recently for children older than 13 years because it was starting to become a hype to try to avoid the filter for a big group of children)

So within the game there are certain rules that users have to follow to avoid being kicked out of the environment. Furthermore the Habbo hotel has a huge fan community that publishes it’s own web pages. According to “Legal and Organizational Issues in Collaborative User-Created Content”, a research done by the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology (HIIT) the fan web pages must be “graphically and thematically similar to the Habbo Hotel game. Sulake encourages the gamers to create their own fan sites but keeps control over the created content by having strict terms of use for the copyrighted Habbo images and other material.” This means that the user created content that is offered on the different fan sites must, due to strict copyrights, be almost identical to the content that Sulake offers. According to the HIIT “ …Also, by leveraging its copyright to the Habbo-related material, Sulake uses licensing terms that are somewhat unfamiliar to regular copyright licenses. For example, official Habbo fan sites are required to be updated at least once a month. Lately Sulake has been also enforcing its licensing terms by forcing the closing of inappropriate fan sites.”

While at first glance Sulake seems to create an open online environment in which children have the possibilities to use their creativity to create their own online space and community this doesn’t seem to be the company’s goal. Because, when you look into these created spaces and communities you can see that they are more restricted and bounded to certain rules as it at first glance appears. The user can only choose from a couple of well thought threw options and the amount of creativity that is ‘accepted’ by the Hotel seems to be pretty limited. John Perry Barlow’s declaration of independence in 1996 feared for the laws and rules that the different governments would apply on the internet. He declared that: “the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us.” In an interview with the same author in 2004 I read the following quote:

“In order to be libertarian, you have to be an optimist. You have to have a benign view of human nature, to believe that human beings left to their own devices are basically good. But I’m not so sure about human institutions, and I think the real point of argument here is whether or not large corporations are human institutions or some other entity we need to be thinking about curtailing. Most libertarians are worried about government but not worried about business. I think we need to be worrying about business in exactly the same way we are worrying about government.”

(the intervieuw can be read here)

The governments in Barlow’s declaration seem to have made place for the big corporations and businesses. The tyrannies threatening our naturally independent social space seem to be rules and regulations designed by the large online corporations. Habbo Hotel seems to not be concerned about creating a independent free social space as long as they keep creating young Habbo consumers. Instead of being part of a global independent social space as desired by Barlow the Habbo way contains a lot of rules and restrictions. Rules and restrictions, according to Westenberg, ‘we don’t mind to agree to’.