Archive for ‘Technology’

It Ain’t Easy Being Green

By , 8 June, 2008, No Comment

You know, I always had a thing for Kermit and I was thinking of his famous quip today when I saw this story about UPS. Apparently, the dudes in brown are going “green,” by telling all their drivers to take delivery routes with only right turns. That way, they won’t waste any gas waiting to turn left.

Get real, UPS. Going green, for real, isn’t about making little tweaks like that, though they help. It will require rethinking the big picture of how we live–it means deciding to call a local store near your grandmother’s house to have them deliver her a gift (by bike), INSTEAD of buying a present and shipping it via UPS.

Not to mention that UPS has had this program for two years, but managed to make it a new story this weekend as part of the global warming media hype.

Then again, I’m sometimes afraid to beat up on companies for greenwashing for fear they’ll stop trying altogether.

The Sun Never Sets

By , 28 May, 2008, No Comment

Some people have too much time on their hands. Like this kid at Trinity College, Dublin, who calculated the number of links it takes to get from any article to any other article on Wikipedia. But thanks to his procrastination project, I can confirm that the British Empire is alive and well.

See in today’s world, connectivity is power. There might be more Google searches for “food” or “sex” or “Barack Obama” than there are users signing online to learn about the United Kingdom. But the Wiki entry on the UK has more links to other articles, is more centrally located in the Wiki universe than any of its flashier competitors.

In its 19th century peak, the British Empire worked because England acted as a hub, a barely visible hand for protectorates and principalities that perceived themselves autonomous. London made out well not so much because people wanted to go there, but because they–and their resources–passed through London on the way to everywhere else.

Plus ça change, it seems, plus c’est la même chose.

Up Close and Political

By , 27 May, 2008, 3 Comments

So Gordon Brown’s Labour got a pretty severe walloping in elections earlier this month. Pundits are predicting a similar defeat for Brown himself in the next general election vs. David Cameron and the Conservatives.

Cameron has been making waves for some time for bringing youthfulness to Mrs. Thatcher’s Tories, complete with a hot pink website. How could Gordon Brown, curmudgeonly and old-school compete?

This week, Brown launched his counterattack: a Web 2.0 version of Prime Minister’s question time. “Ask the PM” is a new feature on YouTube!’s 10 Downing St. channel, where Britons can submit 30 second questions and vote on the questions of their peers. Brown will periodically sign on to give video responses to the most popular spots.

The Guardian, whose editorial line is pro-Brown to begin with, gave the project a rave review. Brown certainly gets points for taking Labour in the right direction, and he’s already got tons of videos from (mostly) young voters.

But can “Ask the PM” become a voter mobilization device? Or, like so many politician-goes-techie ventures before it, is it just a gimmick?

Insurgent Media

By , 21 May, 2008, No Comment

There’s a fascinating cycle of media coverage coming out this week after Hillary Clinton’s bloggers-only conference call over the weekend.

In the call, she made her usual arguments about the need to seat Michigan and Florida at the Convention, and her electability in the fall. The tagline that most bloggers took away was “it’s the map, not the math,” meaning that Clinton is winning in states that will be important battlegrounds in the general election. She went on to specifically thank bloggers who have supported her and continued to cover her campaign as the mainstream media has pretty much accepted Obama as the Democratic nominee.

Disclaimer: A Clinton supporter at heart, I’ve recently come to terms with the inevitability of her defeat.

What’s interesting though, is that the mainstream media devoted ample coverage to the call itself. The New York Times ran a piece on it, and then argued that it reflects Ms. Clinton’s fall from frontrunner grace that she is resorting to the “megaphone of insurgents.” If the blogosphere is so counter-cultural, why does the Times–“megaphone” of the liberal establishment–use it as a source? And if Clinton and McCain are supposed to be the old fogies in this race against young, hip Obama, how come he’s the only candidate who hasn’t reached out to the political blogs this way?

I’m hardly making the case that Clinton and McCain are young hipsters, but rather that the line between the blogs and the so-called “mainstream” is a lot fuzzier than the NY Times makes it seem.

Capitalism 2.0: If you really want to beat them, join them

By , 4 May, 2008, 2 Comments

I’m pretty skeptical of free culture political theory. The Free Culture radicals (people like Larry Lessig, McKenzie Wark and Richard Stallman) argue that the collaborative/non-proprietary ethos of online software production, and the YouTube!-Wikipedia-Napster world it’s unleashed, necessarily contribute to a communitarian model of society: that Web 2.0 technologies represent a shift away from classical economics.

Even after taking a media studies class in college where the professor, Mark Tribe, was something of an open source evangelist, I have my doubts about this technological determinism. But I can sometimes see where the radical theory comes from.

A recent move by Google is a case-in-point. Among the keys to the company’s success is their model for online advertising–using search technologies and consumer behavior online to target ads, and selling that capability to others. One of the very Web 2.0-esque features of that model is the fact that a small-time company has a decent chance to compete with the big shots, since it’s popularity with users (not corporate ad dollars paid in advance) that sends an advert to the top of Google’s lists. That’s one point for the radicals.

This week, Google decided to extend this model to television with Adwords TV. Anybody can make a video spot online (Google has tools to help you do it yourself), and use their crowd-sourcing model to pick a target audience/time slot to air it. You make all the decisions online, pay by credit card and Google does the leg work of getting your ad on TV. The DIY approach fits the collaborative utopia Lessig and Stallman envisage.

Today’s entrepreneurs sometimes argue that Web 2.0 technologies are “additive” not “competitive,” meaning that one new tech feature isn’t out to replace another. You can have a profile on MySpace AND Facebook. Where video may have killed the radio star, Google’ s new ad scheme suggests that Web 2.0 can coexist with the old-school small screen.

Warm and fuzzy as that sounds, however, it seems to me that Google’s philosophy is as old-school as TV itself. Recognizing that people still prefer watching the the Super Bowl on the couch with snacks to YouTube-ing by themselves, they’ve found a way to make online dollars from offline behavior. Google’s “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach sounds to me like a high tech version of age old game theory.

The Internet Police

By , 29 April, 2008, No Comment

Throughout the Web revolution of the past decade, pundits and journalists have angsted endlessly about the implications of new technologies on privacy and the capacity for unwanted “Big Brother” surveillance or dangerous identity theft. Counter-arguments from tech-geeks have mainly centered on the entertainment potential of Google Earth or Facebook-stalking. Breaking the impasse means proving that the new technologies are more than a toy, but a useful and socially constructive tool.

The proof has arrived. Facebook and Google are putting their surveillance and information capacities to work fighting crime. A new Facebook list of suspected war criminals encourages users around the world to post information about sightings. A new Google Earth map marks crime scenes and likely locations.

How effective this will be, however, is still an open question. After all, criminals have computers too and it can’t help to tell them where we think they are. Not to mention that the Facebook lists wanted felons rather than simply suspects: due process dictates the individuals are innocent until proven guilty. Hopefully, the officials in charge will follow the law books over the Facebook.

On the other hand, there are interesting principles behind this technology: crowdsourcing, global technologies as a form of international law/world governance, linking virtual networks back to the physical world. As imperfect as this particular project is, these are the general contours of the coming era. It’s fitting, perhaps, that Facebook and Google would be the first to sign up.