Viewsdesk - chasing the global public sphere
Uncategorized02:30, October 14, 2006

In an effort to bridge the digital divide and with hopes of becoming the perfect supplement to the US$100 OLPC, the Green WiFi project has designed a solar powered WiFi relay station. The basic idea is that a grid of relaying stations can provide an entire area with internet access without being dependent on a reliable external source of power. Using standard off-the-shelves components and open source software the network should ultimately become a self sustaining, self healing, network solution that is cost effective and easy to deploy.

[The] software operate without extensive planning or central management, automatically figures out the fastest way to reach from point A to point B and continuously monitors the network paths […].

Without doubt, necessity and creativity will develop and refine the technology even further ? and from where I stand the project is more interesting as a proof-of-concept than as a packaged product. What I want to know is: How do I build one myself?

I wrote about a book a couple of months back that attempted to be a DIY manual for cheap wireless networking. The logic is that people in rural areas – in developing countries – can operate and maintain their own network, if given the proper knowledge how these things work. In every village, there are people who can fix and build just about anything – from microwave ovens to combustion engines – so why not computer networks? If this was to be deployed in real life situations there are a lot of hacks that can be done to enhance the range and reception of these devices.

Relying on local knowledge like that is to me a great strength, so the question is if it’s possible to integrate it into Green WiFi?s plans.

Censorship02:50, October 12, 2006

One thing that I was asked about in Iran a few times was how to blog anonymously. And about better ways to get around the filter. I tried my best to explain what I knew about the subject, but I think I lost most people pretty quickly. And besides, it can be somewhat complicated and these things are so much easier to understand when they’re written down. Now Ethan Zucherman, of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, has compiled a step-by-step guide to explain the necessary procedures in great detail.

The guide is in only English as of now, and it would be so much more useful if it was available in other languages as well, I think. It would be great to have it in Persian to send to my friends. Is there anyone out there who would be willing to do the world a huge favor and translate it? If the author permits it, that is?

Digital Culture21:14, October 5, 2006

Rosemary Bechler, contributing editor to openDemocracy, recently released her book “Unbounded Freedom” that is an excellent overview of the debate on different sorts of intellectual property. Through telling the history of copyright law she is able to explain and paint a vivid image of why the current trends turn are so challenging for the creative industries.

User-led innovation is reshaping cultural production so that it is trans-national, more egalitarian, less deferential, much more diverse and above all, self-authored. […] Bechler argues that Creative Commons thinking enables cultural organisations to embark on mutual relationships of trust with huge new publics. Describing the transformative potential of new attitudes, she offers us a vision of the future in which “unbounded freedom” is not simply a romantic notion.

It’s an interesting read for anyone who’s interested in the current debate on anything from file-sharing to cheap AIDS-vaccines in Africa. She also discusses the possible implications of the Creative Commons for Developing Nations License and how it can allow western content creators to contribute to less fortunate areas, without the risk of losing revenue at home. (An idea that sounds good, but that I’m not sure would work in practice. More on that someday.)

The whole book is, of course, Creative Commons licensed and can be downloaded here.

Censorship and Iran14:03, September 12, 2006

I brought some magazines with me when I went back to Sweden from Iran. The thing was that I was very surprised to begin with when I found copies of The Economist in the window of a newsstand near the Tehran University in Enqelab Square.

censored magazine coverSince hotel rooms are boring, I picked up a couple of magazines – they even carried older issues. Went back and started reading. It was not until the second time I saw one of the black slabs of ink that I realized that the magazines were indeed censored! This sparked my interest, and I went back several times in the following days, and basically cleared out the store of foreign magazines. (It turned out that the shop owner had some uncensored issues of fashion magazines under the counter – which he very subtly offered me to purchase – and when I said that I’d rather buy the censored ones his jaw fell to the floor.)

I bought three different magazines, just one of some and many of others: The Economist, National Geographic and Wallpaper. I guess they were chosen primarily since I normally buy them.

Anyway, I posted one of the pictures here a couple of month ago, and I’ve finally found time (ehh, not really, but I did it anyway) to do it right. One thing I can’t do, it to provide you with the originals for comparison, and some things – particularly the cartoons – are hard to say anything about. If you have the uncensored issues of the magazines below, and feel like helping out, take a picture of them (or scan them) and mail them to me and I?ll post them.

Please note that the images can be clicked if you want a higher res image. (To get a copy of the original images: mail me.)

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The Economist, May 13 2006, pp6-7. This is a cartoon of George Bush and some unmentionable person. My guess is Ahmadinejad or Khamenei, since it apparently was so important to cover it up. They used both ink and a white sticker.

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The Economist, Apr 23 2005, pp30-31. Advertisement for Portugal. Apparently featuring a woman in swimwear.

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The Economist, Jul 16 2005, Survey of America pp8-9. This girl shows too much skin, and her shoulders were covered.

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The Economist, May 6 2006, pp62-63. The Economist reports that Indonesia is creating new laws to get tough on pornography. Here, the word Playboy has been censored, as well as the backs of the magazine read by the people in the background.

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The Economist, May 6 2006, Cover. The cover of the magazine that also had the previous picture in it. This cover is not censored, but included here to point out that the entire magazine is full of articles that are extremely critical to the regime. Leaders and op-ed’s that say that the Iranian regime is outright dangerous. Yet, that is not censored. Not one word of it. It’s all there. But the word “Playboy” is a no-go.

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The Economist, Apr 16 2005, pp24-25. “Damn those Portuguese! They should know how to cover themselves up. Let’s do it for them!”

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The Economist, Apr 16 2005, pp78-79. Two censored images in the Books and Arts section. One of Billie Holiday’s shoulders and the other is some kind of drawing. I’m very curious as to what lies beneath here. It must be of considerable danger, considering the dual use of ink and sticker.

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The Economist, Apr 29 2006, pp42-43. Article about the shopping mall Debenhams, illustrated with a scantly clad woman.

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The Economist, Apr 15 2006, Cover. This is an issue focusing on the conflict in Israel. Nothing censored on the cover – I just wanted to frame the coming three spreads.

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The Economist, Apr 15 2006, pp8-9. A cartoon again: probably Ahmadinejad.

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The Economist, Apr 15 2006, pp26-27. Advertisement for LG. The woman is wearing a jogging dress.

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The Economist, Apr 15 2006, pp40-41. Cartoon of Uncle Sam with a sword. My best guess is that his opponent in this picture is Khamenei – probably also equipped with a sword.

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The Economist, Jan 15 2005, pp94-95. Samsung advertisement, with the woman wearing a tank top.

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The Economist, Oct 9 2004, pp88-89. Marilyn Monroe is in the photo behind Richard Avedon. The article is an obituary for the famous portrait photographer.

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The Economist, Apr 22 2006, pp44-45. Advertisement for LG. The woman is wearing a jogging dress running clothes.

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National Geographic, Feb 2006, Cover. This issue of NG is about this phenomenon called love. The cover is a photo of a couple in embrace, not really kissing, but almost. On the uncensored cover, that is.

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National Geographic, Feb 2006, Editor’s section. Under the image, the text says “Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable on the set of The Misfits.” Apparently they were up to no good.

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National Geographic, Feb 2006, pp32-33. The same picture that was on the cover – only slightly larger.

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National Geographic, Feb 2006, pp36-37. Another spread in the feature article about love. The woman – probably wearing a bikini – is censored, but the guys are not.

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National Geographic, Feb 2006, pp108-109. These images are part of a story on life in the Alps, where the NG photographers attend a teen charity fashion show.

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National Geographic, Feb 2006, pp120-121. A girl in Florida wearing too little. Tank top? Bikini?

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National Geographic, Feb 2006, pp122-123. Continuing the love-story, a knee is casually exposed. And swiftly removed.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Louis Vitton advertisement. They redesigned the dress. The black is not supposed to be there.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Dior advertisement.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Tretorn advertisement.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Versace advertisement.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Tod’s advertisement. Mind the knee.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. René Lezard advertisement.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. This one is interesting, because it seems to be a slipup. This bathing suit should have been censored, I would think?

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Technogym advertisement.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Fashion piece. Considering the publication, the woman in the tub, might be naked. Ironically, the setting is the Middle-East, thus the women in chador in the background.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Fashion piece cont’d. Look at the women on the right.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Another fashion piece.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Another fashion piece cont’d.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. This girl had a tank top that was too revealing it seems.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Hospes Hotels advertisement.

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This is part of the wrapping that the magazines came in. Nashravaran Journalistic Institute is the organization (agency?) that handles that censorship. They also stamp all magazines with a stamp upon inspection. It’s mind-boggling to think of the people whose work it is to sit there with a giant felt-tip pen and cover up skin all day long.

* * *

Practices of Iranian Censorship
One of the more interesting things with all this, I think, is how words are left uncensored, but images are not. The only word that was explicitly censored was “Playboy”, in spite of the articles being full of things that must be considered western propaganda.

From a westerner’s point-of-view, the censorship can be described in terms of political and/or sexual. The political censorship is the cartoons of the religious and worldly leaders, and the sexual being primarily the female body and some of its attributes. It’s important, however, to remember that women are not censored to the standard that is expected in the real world: in the Iranian society the hair is supposed to be veiled from a strangers gaze – in these images its left untouched and visible. Thus, it can be argued that there is a degree of tolerance that goes beyond what is normally considered acceptable and that censors target the Iranian equivalent of hard-core pornography.

The Iranian censorship is better than other forms of censorship, in that it’s done in the open. The black ink is there for all to see. No pages that “disappeared”, but the evidence of interference is there. That way, Iranians at least know that they’re missing out and can act accordingly.

Iranian Censorship in Relation to the West
The images of censorship above should be considered both in relation to other repressive regimes, but also on the practices in western newspapers. It’s tempting to just come to the conclusion that they are not free – while “we” are.

I’d like to question this, just for the fun of it. For example, National Geographic often shows dual standards in the way it portrays women from different cultures. While they would never print a full-page picture of a topless 19 year-old Californian girl, they have no problems doing to with a native African woman. This practice has been called colonial and is, in a way, also censorship – although not made with black ink.

My point is not to defend Iranian censorship in any way. But we, as westerners, should also be aware that to some extent all societies censor to defend what they consider being the outer limits of decency. Another example is my own country. Sweden is no different – here politicians are often arguing that measures should be taken to “reduce the sexualization of the public sphere”, meaning that laws should be passed to put clothes on women in advertisements. I ask myself, how is that different?

* * *

On a Brazilian site someone has been so helpful as to find the originals for some of the advertisements and present them side-by-side in a nice flip-book kind of way.

Iran23:20, September 10, 2006

I went to the Museum of Modern Art here in Stockholm today, and all I could think about was that the museum should make an exhibition together with the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (semi-working website here). Some of the pieces I saw in Tehran were truly fantastic, and together with a lecturer on the Iranian art sphere, I believe it would be a great and interesting event. Hopefully it could also help to change the perception of Iran in the eyes of the Swedes.

Okay, so any ideas on how I make it happen?

Iran23:55, September 7, 2006

Global Voices, the excellent blog project from Harvard, published an interview with me today. I talk about my field research and my experiences from going to Iran. Nothing new really, but perhaps it’s got a more personal touch than I allow myself to have in this space. If you haven’t been to Global Voices go there and stay awhile. It’s really a great initiative.

I also should mention that Farid Pouya, made the interview, helped me greatly at the beginning of the project and he deserve due credit. Thank you!

Censorship23:52, August 31, 2006

In an effort to start blogging again, after a summer’s absence while concentrating on completing my thesis, I would like to follow up on my previous post about internet censorship in Sweden.

Bosse Ringholm, deputy prime minister of Sweden, was reported in the media to threaten online gambling sites (link in Swedish – sorry!) with being filtered and banned from the Swedish internet. The background to this debacle is that gambling in Sweden is only legal through the state monopoly Svenska Spel, and that their income have decreased steadily in the last years as gamblers have turned to other companies operating outside the boundaries of Swedish law through placing the servers in another countries. The banks would also be prohibited to process creditcard transactions from such sites.

The rationale for the government?s crackdown on such companies is to take precautions against gambling addicts. (Exactly why it would be less addictive to purchase a raffle ticket from a state-owned company than with a private one remains unclear.) To come to terms with this competition and perceived threat to the Swedish model, the government now draws inspiration from other regimes that are much more efficient in upholding their national laws, despite issues with this new thing called the internet.

So, what where the odds misusing a filtering system once it?s in place? Probably not a bet that even Svenska Spel would gamble on.

Digital Culture and Technologies08:22, July 17, 2006

China is attempting to gain momentum on the western-dominated Internet, by encouraging a rapid transition to IPv6. And, it’s not only a matter of prestige, as the IPv4-addresses – the phone numbers of the internet – are running out. And they’re not exactly evenly distributed among the world?s nations:

“When 26 Chinese share one Internet protocol address, while each American possesses six IP addresses?this is the quandary facing China in the IPv4 era”, Zhao Houlin, director of the International Telecommunications Union, said in 2005.

Full article here.

Censorship17:23, June 19, 2006

The other day I came across an interactive flash-map, made by OpenNet Initiative (ONI), that show the status and levels of internet-related censorship in the world. One thing that struck me was that my neighboring country of Norway is on the watchlist. It turns out that Norway along with Great Britain operates a filter for child pornography.

A similar filter is in service in Sweden – but Sweden is not listed on the ONI map.

Rikskriminalpolisen (National Criminal Investigation Department) supplies the ISP?s with a list that they are ?recommended? to block. Minister of Justice Thomas Bodstr?m have put pressure on the providers by saying that a law might be passed to force them to filter, if they did not comply voluntarily.

From what I have come to understand the blocks are done on IP-number level, effectively blocking other sites that happen to share physical server with an offending site.

As usual, censorship starts small and then expands as new challenges present themselves and the temptation to ?just push that button? gets impossible to resist. Currently the Swedish government is on a quest to stop human trafficking (and prostitution – since in their eyes, the words are synononymous) and Bodstr?m have said that the list of blocked sites also might include prostitution sites sometime in the future.

Iran01:22, June 18, 2006

Satellite dish in Imam Square, Esfahan, IranOfficially, owning a satellite dish in Iran is illegal but despite the occasional raid, the government seems to be quite tolerant to it. Though, I must admit I was surprised when ? even at Imam Square (Naghsh-i Jahan Square), in the center of Esfahan – a dish was sitting there in plain view. I thought the owners were expected to be discrete and mount them on the roofs – out of view from the streets.

One thing people often ask is if Iranian?s have access to foreign television, and if so what channels they can receive. The short answer is that access is greater in Iran than anywhere else I?ve ever been! An Iranian friend showed me that he had 1,106 channels in his home! All European and American channels you can think of ? I guess it?s mostly a matter of people being able to understand the foreign languages.

PS. On this day I also express my sincere condolences to the people of Iran for the terrible loss in the World Cup. I?m so sorry, guys.

EDIT (19th of June): Bigger image, with more of the surroundings, here.

Iran11:35, June 16, 2006

I?ve been interviewed about my research trip to Iran by the Swedish online-newspaper Unfortunately for any English readers, the article is in Swedish only.

The article is found here: Bloggrevolution erövrar Iran.

ICT4D02:29, June 8, 2006

India’s Zeenews published an article on the use of cellphones to increase the flow of information and help making business decisions. And not on 5th Avenue in New York, but in rural South Africa. The story is not quite unlike the one I blogged about the other month.

Mashva is one of around 100 farmers in Makuleke testing cell phone technology that gives small rural farmers access to national markets via the Internet, putting them on a footing with bigger players and boosting profits by at least 30 percent. “Mainstream farmers have access to market information so they can negotiate better prices. This cell phone enables poor rural farmers to get that same information,” said Mthobi Tyamzashe […].

Digital Culture and Iran12:09, June 7, 2006

In cities all over the world, graffiti have become natural part of the cityscape. Tehran is not different. Most tags and slogans (and the more elaborate paintings) are officially sanctioned, relaying the messages and opinions of the government.

Some are not sanctioned at all.

writing on a wall

This wall (larger image) was photographed in Darakeh just north of Tehran a few weeks ago. I saw the same tag down-town as well, but was never given a good opportunity to take a picture of it.

The Persian text translates to “political disclosing” or “political divulging”. Unfortunately the site no longer exists. I wonder who was so brave as to create an oppositional blog and then draw attention to it by spraying the address all over the capital.

If anything, I think the picture shows how important blogs are for the Iranian public sphere. How desperately people want to be read and listened to, and what length some are willing to go to achieve it.

Technologies16:40, May 31, 2006

The Swedish organization Gapminder, aims to visualize world development by making statistics more understandable. I must say they are very, very good at what they do.

First, watch the video presentation – and then play with the software here.


Censorship and Iran21:59, May 30, 2006

One thing that surprised me with Iran was that it was not particularly hard to get over foreign magazines. Just visit a specialized newsagent, and the stacks were pretty much the same as anywhere; Times, Newsweek and the ubiquitous The Economist.

censored magazine coverYou have to remember that I brought very little ? if any ? literature with me, in order to travel light, so the first time I saw English-language magazines I bought pretty much everything I could get my hands on. (Hotel rooms are boring at night, you know.) All was fine, until I came back and started reading them.

They were all censored. And not in any subtle way ? but with black felt-tip pens and white stickers! The interesting thing is that an article can be very critical towards Iranian policies in writing, but pictures are apperently much more sensitive. An issue of the The Economist, for example, featured an extremely opinionated leader on Iran?s nuclear policies. It was not touched. The caricature cartoon of Khamenei, however, was a big black hole.

As was all images of women with a little less clothes than prescribed.

This sparked my interest, and the next day I went on a quest to find more magazines. I bought a whole bunch, from newspapers and viewspapers to Wallpaper and National Geographic.

The latter also had the most prominent censorship of them all ? as shown in the image in this post (the untouched cover in the lower right corner).

I will make a more methodical study of the 30-or-so magazines I brought back to Sweden, and return with more scientific results on the censorship.

Iran13:52, May 29, 2006

I’ve returned from my research trip to Iran, where I’ve been on a month-long research trip, as part of writing my master thesis on Iranian blogs and the public sphere.

This trip also explains that this blog have been so eerily quiet for some time. I decided not to blog about this project — and I even went as far as removing the posts I’d already made on the subject. I apologize for any confusion. This was of course due to security concerns, both my own and for that of my interviewees. I preferred to stay under the radar, and better be safe than sorry.

Anyway, I have had a fantastic time in Iran and I return with a great material. I?ve met with so many enthusiastic and inspiring bloggers in Tehran and Esfahan. I wish I could tell you some of the stories I’ve heard…

I’ll be posting some comments and observations as I start to dig more in to my material. Watch this space!

ICT4D14:40, April 19, 2006

The United Nations have approved the launch of a Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies and Development. The idea is to find a platform to secure and promote the achievements of some of the Millennium Goals.

The mission of the Global Alliance for ICT and Development will be to facilitate and promote such integration by providing a platform for an open, inclusive, multi-stakeholder cross-sectoral policy dialogue on the role of information and communication technology in development. It will thus contribute to linking the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society with the broader United Nations development agenda.

Press release here.

ICT4D02:05, March 15, 2006

This story about how access to cellphones can make a difference in the real world comes from India. Robert Jensen of Harvard University have studied the Kerala fishermen, and conclude that introducing simple technology can put food on the table for people in rural areas. Narrowing the digital divide – in a very concrete way.

[C]ellphones ended the wastage of 6% of the catch due to a lack of buyers in some markets: the entire catch was sold, and nothing was wasted. […] Even the consumer benefited: fish prices came down because of the increase of 6% in the quantity supplied as the wastage ended. It was a win-win-win situation.

India Times have the whole story.

Technologies18:29, March 13, 2006

Andy Carvin has posted a video where Martin Varsavsky present the idea and rationale behind FON – an initiative to provide open wireless internet for the masses. I’ve been trying to get my head around this FON-idea for quite some time now, but I still don’t get it.

Considering the overwhelmingly positive reception the project has gotten, especially amongst high-profile bloggers and venture capitalists, I feel like I must be missing something. So, I’ve made an attempt to summarize my thoughts, and I urge you to explain to me why you think I’m wrong.

Without attempting to explain the whole model, since most readers probably already know about it, it is important to understand that FON use three user-levels, conveniently named after computer industry caricatures; you can be a Bill, a Linus or an Alien. This describes your sharing status, and also dictates how you can access the internet yourelf.

A Linus is any user who shares his/her WiFi in exchange for free access throughout the Community wherever there is coverage. A Bill is a user who, instead of roaming for free, prefers to receive 50% of the fees that FON charges to Aliens. And Aliens are those users who do not share their WiFi access and therefore must pay FON a modest fee every time they connect through a Fonero access point.

Seems fair? Well, yeah, maybe. Oh, I almost forgot: before you can join the share anything, you have to buy a specific router, replace the firmware and invalidate any warranties. It’s way too difficult for most, and too expensive for some.

Not Free
FON is not free. FON is actually pretty darn expensive. For an Alien, a user who does not share their connection, the fee is ?5 for 24 hours of access, or ?40 per month. That, my friends, is a pretty heft lump of money for a service that is getting cheaper by the minute. Bandwidth, in the western world, is dropping closer to zero cost every day. By comparison – I pay about ?35/month for my 100/10 mbps connection. “Modest fee”? Think again.

A Movement?
FON is trying to establish itself as a movement, complete with pictures of marching people with flags and banners on its website. This is just bull. FON is not a movement. It’s a corporation whose game is making money. Nothing wrong with that, but it ain’t no movement. Say it with me: FON is not a movement.

Truly free internet
Believe me, I’m not against open WiFi access. On the contrary, I’m pretty much having wet dreams about it. But if FON is not more than I think it is, then I do not believe it’s the way to go. FON’s thinking behind their user-levels is that people who share their internet connection need some incentive to do so. Otherwise, they say, only a few enthusiasts will go though the trouble.

In a way, I think they’re right – only a few will, but it has been proven again and again, that a few enthusiasts is all it takes. Consider the open-source projects. There are still people in my parents’ generation who claim that voluntary programming efforts can never produce something as advanced as an operating system. People, they say, have no incentive. I show them Linux, and their gaze become distant, and they repeat like zombies that it can’t be done. I boot Linux up, and they repeat like zombies that it can’t be done.

Why can’t collaborative efforts bring free internet? Because old-school economics say so?

Just looking at myself, I have a 100/10 Mbps fiber connection to the internet, and in all honesty, that is more than I can consume – even though I’ve sure many would describe me as an extremely demanding internet user. I download a fair deal of stuff, host this website and use VoIP for all my immobile telephony. Today, I spend much of my overhead bandwidth routing TOR-traffic – another collaborative effort that actually works.

The incentive for me to share my internet connection with my whole street, through an intentionally sloppy setup of a plain WiFi-router, is very simple: I hope somebody else would do the same when I need it. Just like I hope that someone is sharing the file in need on BitTorrent, and in return I share some with them. It does not take a lot of people to cover a great part of a city’s center. I do it because I’m a Good Guy, and I like that.

I would not, however, share my internet connection to everyone (be a Linus), and let FON receive ?40/month for my kindness.

The Alterative
On the other extreme of this debate are the people who want the city, state or government to provide access to free wireless internet. Varsavsky does not like this at all. In the video, he is not-very-subtle when insinuating that this is a communist way of doing things. Then again – why should he like it? It would ruin his business idea of having users are build the infrastructure for FON, pay for the bandwidth and share it – while FON receives at least 50% of all the income.

Something just does not add up, in my book. It’s like a pyramid scheme.

I’m not a big fan of big governmental projects either, but history shows that when it comes to huge infrastructural projects, private businesses are pretty darn worthless. Roads, railways – and the internet itself, would not have been without state funding.

Instead, I purpose a model where there is a state owned infrastructure, and privately owned networks. Operators can compete with price and service over rented base stations, repeaters and access-points. Well, that’s another post – but still.

I do not understand is how FON think they will ever reach critical mass by hoping that people will finance, build and operate the network for them, while profits go to the company. Internet access should – and will be – as ubiquitous as electricity, and no bar-owner would ever ask you to pay extra for the privilege of having a beer under his light bulb. The system is too complex and too expensive, and the extra benefits from just promoting free networks are non-existant.

Iran17:14, February 27, 2006

My interest in Iran, and how citizen participation – primarily through electronic media – influence the public sphere has prompted me to focus on this in my master thesis in media and communication studies.

Thanks to a generous travel grant from The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), I will be able to travel to Iran and conduct the field studies necessary. I leave in the beginning of April, and plan to say in Iran for about eight weeks before returning to Sweden. During that time, I will meet, listen to and interview as many bloggers as I can.

The main research area is how the organization of the civil society is affected by the increased participation offered by the Internet and blogs. The background is that a well-organized civil society is often suggested to be an absolute necessity in the phases of transition towards a democratic rule.

Other research questions include: How can the Iranian public sphere be classified, and what characteristics does it have? What are the implications of political participation in Iran regarding self-censorship etcetera? How does state-sanctioned censorship affect the public sphere, and how – if at all – can the online censorship be circumvented?

I intend to be very transparent during this research, and I appreciate any feedback. More details will be posted shortly, watch this space!

Naturally, I’m interested in all contacts I can possibly get in Iran. If you can help me, don’t hesitate to drop me an email (jonathan -at- qem -dot- se).

Digital Culture03:52, February 18, 2006

If you buy something – you own it, right? You can repaint your house in any color you like; you can fit eighteen-inch rims on your Fiat Punto; you can use your CD’s as frisbees in the summer and as ice-scrapers during the winter? Well, no, when your stuff is digital, it appears that your stuff is no longer yours.

The right to ownership, access to a secondary commodity market and universal Internet access: they’re all different sides of the same coin. But if the corporations are left to their own devices, all three might not be in our future anytime soon.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act is once again being used to control what people do with stuff that is legally theirs. This is not really news, but has been done lots of times before. This time around, they want to block people from unlocking their cellphones in order to use a different provider. The rationale here is that the phone company need the user to stay within the network to cover the cost of the subsidized handsets.

Let’s investigate why this behavior is a dangerous when seen through the perspective of consumers.

First of all, the right of ownership. If you own it, you must be allowed to do whatever you like with what is yours – if you can’t, its not ownership, but leasing or something else altogether. In the example of the cell phone, this means that you must be free to hack, modify or alter the device, in whatever way you see fit. This includes removing any blocks that are put in there but the operator. Would we accept a fridge that only worked with Nestlé food? Probably not.

Secondly, access to a secondary market. This is really important. If I get bored with my whatever, I must be able to sell it? And the phone, for example, cannot be locked to a particular operator, with no possibility for me to change it. without breaking the law. Also, DRM often limits the right to resale a digital protected file, which is a disaster for many communities, especially in the developing world. For example, libraries can no longer donate used books to other institutions, but will be required to throw them away.

Lately there’s been much discussion about a new threat to cell phone providers – people using open WiFi access points for calling. For example, FON have been getting a whole lot of hype in the last few weeks (mostly because of their recruitment of agenda-setting bloggers, one might argue…). The belief is that handsets will be equipped with dual functionality; use WiFi if its within a hotspot, or fall back to GSM, UMTS, CDMA or whatever low-bandwidth alternative there is when the wireless broadband fail.

The phone companies probably should be scared. A huge source of income is without doubt people in metropolitan cities, exactly those who might get access to WiFi-networks pretty easily.

The problem is that handsets are expensive pieces of equipment, and in order to afford them, most people go for subsidized, branded (and inferior) versions. These are tightly controlled by the operators, who bloat the software with proprietary links and logos to maintain control over the experience. Some phones completely lack the brand name of a traditional manufacturer, such as Sony Ericsson or Nokia, but push only the operators own band. Vodafone is among of the most aggressive operators doing this today. You buy a Vodafone phone – and you get Vodafone service. For life, if they have it their way.

So, consumer behavior has changed, from first finding a cell phone they like and then find a reasonable service for it, to buying everything from the service provider.

Very few people can afford to buy an un-subsidized handset, and considering that it would be outright stupid of operators to subsidize handsets sporting WiFi-capabilities, and thus digging its own grave, I think it is highly unlikely that such offerings will be available anytime soon.

If I, personally, want mobile Internet access through my 3G-phone today, the rate is approximately US$1,20 per megabyte – way too much to do anything useful. In the end, this will lead to a less expansive public Internet, and it will not become a commodity that could serve society.

ICT4D04:33, February 10, 2006

A new book called Wireless Networking in the Developing World – A Practical Guide to Planning and Building Low-Cost Telecommunications Infrastructure, tries to explain exactly what its name implies. Using cheap hardware and existing standards, it is possible to create new networks much more cost-efficiently than with any wired approach, and this publication attempts to explain how and why. The logic is that people in rural areas – in developing countries – can operate and maintain their own network, if given the proper knowledge how these things work. In every village, there are people who can build just about anything – so why not networks?

I am certainly not an engineer and my experience with radio doesn?t stretch beyond flipping the channels on an FM-receiver and some basic high school physics. However, I found the book to be an exiting read. I had no idea you could use cookware and a USB-dongle to make a parabolic dish, or that an empty tin can double as a waveguide. It’s both theoretical and practical in its approach, and explain very well how everything fits together.

The authors are all specialists in their area, and have worked for years with putting these things into practice. Some of the projects are described as case studies in the last chapter of the book.

The whole book can be downloaded under a Creative Commons license.

Digital Culture13:34, February 2, 2006

A couple of days ago the BBC reported that a document called the Information Operations Roadmap (PDF) had been declassified and that it contained some pretty interesting stuff.

The American dominance over the Internet, recently manifested by its unwillingness to hand over some of the critical control to UN-organizations, may have another side to it. Usually, the American model of openness is said to be the main reason for the American reluctance. But, reading the Roadmap, it is not very difficult to find some less appealing ulterior motives.

The document blatantly speaks about the Internet as an enemy weapons system, and that US forces should try to gain and maintain control over the entire electro-magnetic spectrum and that the US must be able to “disrupt or destroy the full spectrum of globally emerging communications systems, sensors, and weapons systems dependent on the electromagnetic spectrum”

This is most definitely the military response of what, a decade ago, as called netwars – a concept, and particular type of information warfare, that the RAND Corporation published a report about, called Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy (PDF available).

Also, another RAND report published in collaboration with the National Defense Research Institute U. S. and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, in 1999 was entitled The Emergence of Noopolitik: Toward an American Information Strategy. (PDF available) It analyses the soft power potential of the Internet and how it should be used to “get everybody in the world hooked on the dreams made in Hollywood”.

The growth of Noopolitik, they say, is a paradigmatic shift:

While realpolitik tends to empower states, noopolitik will likely empower networks of state and nonstate actors. Realpolitik pits one state against another, but noopolitik encourages states to cooperate in coalitions and other mutual frameworks.

Iran12:57, February 1, 2006

Blogger-in-exile, Hossein “Hoder” Derakhshan, is coming to Sweden and will hold an open lecture on the Iranian blogosphere and political life in Iran. Just show up, if you’re interested — and you should be!

Date and time: 8th of February 2006, 1000-1200 CET
Location: JMK-salen, Institutionen för Journalistik, Medier och Kommunikation, Karlavägen 104, Stockholm.

ICT4D04:49, January 28, 2006

UNDP has decided to back the One Laptop Per Child-project, initiated by Nicolas Negroponte, Routers and AP reports. The United Nations will work together with the non-profit foundation, to help sell the $100 computer to governments.

Also, Lo?c Le Meur posted a podcast with Nicholas Negroponte, from the Economic Forum in Davos.

Intel however, seems not impressed with the initiative, calling the cheap computer merely “a gadget”, since they seem to believe it lacks both capacity and software. Yeah, I bet you’re scared: If people could put such low-spec computer to good use – how can you make people buy faster and faster chips? Besides, it is a learning tool, and it may well be beside the point whether or not it can compete with products costing many, many times the price.

Censorship04:27, January 24, 2006

In the spirit of defying those who attempt to limit free speech, the radio show On Point broadcasted a special hour-long segment about Internet Censorship and Surveillance last Friday. Featured guests include Ron Deibert of the Open Net Initiative, Tim Wu of Columbia Law School, Julien Pain of Reporters Without Borders and Declan McCullah of CNet.

You can search for whatever you like, but type in “democracy” in China’s blogosphere, or “human rights” or “women” in Iran, and you’re getting nothing. E-mail trails are sending dissidents to jail. Whole realms of thought are being filtered right off the web — and American companies are helping.

The whole show can be found online in RealAudio and Windows Media format. No MP3, it seems, so you can’t listen to it on the subway home, unfortunately.

Digital Culture17:32, January 18, 2006

In a time when commercial messages and advertisements are allowed to take over the public sphere, large-scale art projects are few and far between.

A few years ago, the German Chaos Computer Club took over a building in Berlin to create the largest computer screen ever. By painting the windows white and putting computer-controlled floodlights behind them, the windows were transformed into pixels. Although this is cool in its own right, the CCC went even further and allowed the public to create messages and animations to display on the screen. It was a huge success.

The group was invited to do it all again a year later, this time in Paris – using the fa?ade of Biblioth?que nationale de France. Second time around, the lights were more advanced and could display more shades. Again, public participation was imperative -the people was not just recipients of messages, they were producers of meaning. (Video documentation from the two projects, really cool!)

In Sweden, I doubt any politician would dare to allow this. Commercial messages however, they seem to have less problem with. Graffiti on the subway trains is fought with vigour, but the transit authorities allow companies to buy entire wagons to be used as billboards. And a few months ago, during the renovation of a Clara Church in central Stockholm, H&M was allowed to hang huge posters right on the church.

Everything is for sale, it seems.

Censorship and Iran03:38, January 14, 2006

Laura Secor, reporter with The New Yorker, has written a lengthy piece about the situation in Iran. It attempts to explain the current political developments in the country, and should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the recent chicken-race when it comes to Iran’s atom program.

It’s a really nice read, and she interviews both public and not-so-public people, in her – seemingly genuine – quest to explain the apparent quirkiness of another culture. The result is an honest account, if maybe somewhat normative at the egdes. Hossein Derakhshan, aka Hoder – exile Iranian ?berblogger, gives the article his blessing and calls it the deepest and most insightful piece by an American he’s ever read. That I cannot judge, I’ll just have to take his word for it.

The article describes the political and public sphere, and how participation sometimes is frowned upon – to say the least. She quotes: “We have freedom of expression – just not freedom after expression”. Particularly interesting was the section about blogger Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, who was jailed last fall for writing material on his blog that stirred up emotions among the rulers. The story has been told before, from another perspective, but the account is more detailed.

Censorship and Digital Culture16:17, January 13, 2006

Yesterday Wikipedia was not true enough for some. Today, it is too true for others.

Via: Information Policy

Free Speech02:40, January 10, 2006

After several American companies have been exposed when doing questionable business with repressive governments, Reporters Without Borders are proposing an ethical standard to be imposed on companies doing technology-related business with such nations. The companies should, among other things, be forced to incorporate a white-list of words – such as democracy or human rights, one would presume – that are rendered impossible to censor.

The argument is that the Yahoo’s and the Google’s was spawned out of – and thus are the products of – an environment where speech is free, and that such companies should not be allowed to make a buck by helping governments to deny that freedom from others.

In general terms, I think this is a terrific idea. Or rather – there shouldn’t even be a discussion: the companies themselves should shun business like this like the black plague. But I agree with Rebecca MacKinnon – it should, if at all possible, be resolved without involvement from government or the international community. It should be in the companies’ interest not to be perceived as money-hungry capitalists without conscience by their customers.

However, humor me for a second and consider the academic argument. This problem is a very good example of the inherent problem with an open society. If everybody is allowed to do whatever they want, manufacture whatever they want, trade with whomever they chose – eventually someone’s going to do something stupid, right? There can be no way of stopping that (…and if we could, or would, stop it – would society still be really free?).

My thoughts also linger on the practicalities behind the idea of a universal consensus around democratic principle. What is tolerated in a democracy is always defined within some kind of envelope, and what falls outside those invisible borders are not set in stone. Does not China, for example, have the same right to decide what threatens their society as the USA does? Just fifty years ago, America was witch-hunting communists because the American government believed there was a threat to the society, and today western governments see terrorists everywhere ? and are combating them with any means necessary. Wire-taps and data retention are just a few of the artifacts created by our open society as of late. And in Sweden, the police provides ISP’s with an IP-list to content we can’t tolerate within our open and democratic society. See, the envelope exists even here. We’re just so much closer to it.

This is, without doubt, not as easy as it seems – even though I firmly believe companies like Fortinet, known for trading with Burma, should seize their activities and adopt a voluntary code-of-conduct. By the way, does anybody know if there are ethical investment funds that screen for this kind of behavior?

Censorship15:22, December 20, 2005

The Swedish Court of Appeals decided today that a satellite dish mounted on the facade of an apartment building is un-lawful, because it can hurt somebody if it fell down on the street below. One of the defendants, Mr Adnan, will be evicted on April 1st, following the courts verdict, together with his own and two other families.

Mr Adnan need the dishes to watch television from their home countries, but apparently the freedom to access information was considered less important than the landlords wish to keep the neighborhood stylishly neat, tidy and consistent. This caused Mr Adnan – a trained architect – to construct a mobile rig so that the dish would not be a permanent mount, but this solution was also deemed to be non satisfactory by the court – although they agree that it is safe.

The verdict will be a mandatory precedent, which in practice means that landlords across Sweden can force their tenants to remove satellite dishes without any chance of appeal.

Besides being extremely discriminating – since ethic Swedes are unlikely to want any other channels than those that are being provided by the terrestrial or cable broadcasts – isn’t the individuals freedom to access information much more important than anything else. I agree that satellite dishes may not be the most beautiful things in their own right, but it is neutralized in any urban environment. And, if safety cannot be guaranteed when tenants mount the dishes themselves, why oblige the landlords to help them?

Hopefully, Mr Adnan can find another apartment soon – and get access to the channels he wants through any other mean.

Google Earth placemark to the apartment buildings in Rinkeby
More on the event from Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish)

Censorship and Free Speech00:58, December 5, 2005

I don’t want to be overly dystrophic, but these are dark days for free speech. Internet filtering is becoming increasingly common in the world, the regimes are getting better at it and the schemes harder to circumvent.

This is where Tor, an EFF supported project, comes in. It is what’s called an onion router that obscures communication by letting the data pass through several nodes in encrypted form. Using the Tor network, a user in, say, China, can access sites without ever getting caught by the government. People can blog and participate in the public sphere without leaving much trace.

Reporters sans fronti?res have a handy chapter in their publication Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents, which explain the end-user benefits and the technical background using simple, pain English.

Not only people living in countries we westerners normally consider repressive, can benefit from this technology. Even in countries like my native Sweden, the police are maintaining a list of sites that ISP’s are “recommended” to block (link in Swedish). Today, the blocks are used only to fight child pornography – a noble cause indeed – but even the existence of such a system and the power of whatever outbreak of moral panic we might come across in the future is a recipe for disaster. History has numerous examples of when free speech gets threatened by short-term public opinion.

Another threat is the new data retention initiative from the European Union, already ratified in Sweden, also threatens the access to information and the right to free speech by keeping record for several years of all calls made, e-mail’s and internet sites visited.

A solution to all these problems is to hide – and hide well. To help facilitate this I set up a Tor-server today, and donate a chunk of my available bandwidth to those in need.

Technologies12:45, November 23, 2005

FON, a Spanish initiative, a project with the ?goal to create a unified WiFi Network that will let members of the community to share not just bandwidth but also experiences and values?.

Why are they so focused on voice telephony, when it?s just one of the avaliable services if they can manage to set up, operate and maintain a grassroot access network? In the western world, charges for telephony is hardly a problem or a limitation for anyone: calls ? even international ? are very inexpesive in relation to the income level. They claim it?s a revolution, but really, they’re just offering something for free that is already cheap. Or am I missing something?

ICT4D16:26, November 21, 2005

MIT Media Lab unveiled a working prototype of the $100 laptop at WSIS in Tunis, last week. The project, as reported before, will bring computing en masse to less developed areas of the world. More information and specs is now also available.

Apparently, Steve Jobs of Apple Computer offered his latest operating system to the project for free, but was turned down by the Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the project, who opted for strictly open-source software.

Pictures from the demo (1 2 3) and press photos.

ICT4D06:08, November 19, 2005

There once was a time when Internet did not come in megabit speeds. In those days, people connected though modems hooked up to noisy analog telephone lines. Just ten years ago, I used a 28k8 baud modem – barely usable with the World Wide Web – but a huge upgrade from my previous 2k4 baud modem I had before. The thing is that I have become so accustomed to speed, that I have (almost) forgotten the chores of optimizing code and images. I have a 100-megabit pipe straight into my living room: over four thousand times faster than my first modem.

A lot can be said about the wonders of video broadcasting on the Internet, but for a majority of the world’s population, data is still transmitted over extremely low bandwidth carriers. (Let me remind you that GSM for example, can only handle 9k6 kbit/s in its original configuration.)

Lately I’ve been experimenting with trying to provide access to content trough narrowband channels, and for clients with a very small (and/or low-res) screen. Luckily, the tools are very easy to use. HTML is very adaptable and works well for most computers, micro-browsers and handhelds, and most mobile phones contain a WAP-browser that handle WML-documents.

Using (slightly modified) plug-ins (wp-mobile.php and wp-wap.php) to my blogging software, enabling access for other terminals proved to be a breeze.

My perspective is simple: By enabling WAP-access, for example, I enable an exchange of ideas with virtually all mobile phones on the planet. Needless to say, there are a lot of people who lack access to computers, but own – and know how to operate – has a cell phone. Isolated, as in this blog, it is irrelevant. No one cares.

But, if we are serious about projects like One Laptop Per Child, we must also be better at enabling content for those without fiber optic Internet connections, or Apple Cinema Displays.

It’s not as sexy as Podcasting. Not as cool as IPTV. But, if it can bring millions of eyeballs – I’m game.

This blog through text only HTML
This blog through WAP


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