Viewsdesk - chasing the global public sphere

April 2005

Internet Governance18:42, April 16, 2005

November is just around the corner, and with it the WSIS meeting in Tunis. At the end of PrepCom II a resource was created to help people communicate and share information between the PrepComs and the Summit.

The World Summit on the Information Society Civil Society Meeting Point is the host of several interesting mailing lists divided into caucuses and working groups.

Digital Culture03:57, April 12, 2005

Google intends to digitize millions of documents from American and English university libraries and make them accessible and searchable over the Internet, something that the French will not let go un-noticed, as both The Economist and the New York Times have reported during the last week.

The Economist in particular is deeply sarcastic about the French plan to fund their own digitalization project, calling it anglophobic. I can’t see how this is a bad idea. Isn’t that what everybody should be doing? In Sweden for example, Projekt Runeberg, have been doing the same thing for a decade.

Besides, Google’s PageRank system is not without problems, and the French culture minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres might actually have a point: “I do not believe”, he wrote in Le Monde, “that the only key to access our culture should be the automatic ranking by popularity, which has been behind Google’s success.”

Google is indeed excellent for many of our daily routines, but can we really trust it to be the keeper of all knowledge and does it really have the wisdom to tell good from bad?

Let me give you an example. A few months ago, at the WebCred conference, the participants of a panel discussion talked a structural problem with Google. See, in order to rank importance of pages Google count how many other pages are linking to that particular page. What the WebCred participants discussed was if there could be a way of disqualifying some links from that count. Their worry was that if they linked to a page they didn’t agree with, say a democratic blogger who linked to a republican site, that link would still count – and they end up helping their opponent to achieve a higher ranking, and thus more visitors.

My worries are that if this were to be put in practice Google’s index would be completely and utterly bland. The pages that would show up on top would be whatever idea or view people could agree on, and getting low page ranks would in effect silence any opposition. Keep in mind that plurality is an asset – even though search engines would like us all to be satisfied with the same results, regardless of who we are.

This is also the same problem with smaller languages. Even though English is the lingua franca of the Internet, this does not mean that caring for another language is protectionistic, right? Surly, most people recognize the importance of at least some of the French philosophers, to name just one category of which I’m sure the French will digitize.

“I have nothing in particular against Google,” Jean-No?l Jeanneney, head of France’s Biblioth?que Nationale, told L’Express. “I simply note that this commercial company is the expression of the American system, in which the law of the market is king.”

Keep in mind, that in an historical perspective, the really outstanding artists or great thinkers are rarely appreciated in their own time. (Or by the search engines of their own time, I’m sure.)

Internet Governance01:33, April 11, 2005

In their publication What to do About ICANN: A Proposal for Structural Reform (PDF), the Internet Governance Project suggests some changes to the organization of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The organizations close ties to the US government is in focus. The background is the upcoming WSIS-conference, and the three suggestions are very concrete and certainly both feasible and good.

Three structural reforms are proposed: 1 Create an international oversight body to replace US oversight of ICANN and ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee; 2 restore ICANN’s global Board elections; 3 Give ccTLD managers and Internet Protocol address users a choice of governance arrangements by sharing responsibility for the Internet root zone between ICANN and the ITU.

However, the report does not (specifically) address the difficulties with influence from non-democratic governments. This is a delicate issue. Should repressive governments be given a vote in these issues? Will citizens in countries with limited or no freedom of speech be better or worse off, if control over the Internet is handed to the UN? That’s the real question.

They do however suggest a peer-to-peer model where the International Telecommunications Union is given their own IPv6 address blocks and acts as a parallel registrar to ICANN, in about the same way as many other Western democracies divide power into different branches.

Uncategorized02:36, April 1, 2005

I have, in earlier posts, pointed out the ease of participating in the public sphere by hosting your own blog. Well, today (or yesterday, really) another side of it showed its ugly face. My disk crashed and took this entire blog with it.

I managed to scrape together the pieces and get it back online again – but not in it’s original form. I decided to move another blogging-tool while I was at it, and the default design will have to do for a few days.

Most importantly – you all have to update your RSS-feeds! The new address is:

I’m sorry for this. But I’m sure nobody will suffer as much as I do.

Update: I think I’ve created a workaround so that you won’t have to change update the feeds after all. If you’re reading this in your aggregator, you’re definitely home safe.