Some contemplations on the past 13 weeks…

… in which the reader encounters a reflective author attempting to honestly assess his success or lack thereof, and to plot his engagement levels throughout.

*Ahem* As MST2/3DMC draws to a close, we must now consider how we approached our blog, and how useful our blogs and others were.  For mine, I’m always enthusiastic at the beginning of a semester, and this course fired my enthusiasm beyond those base levels.  I was champing at the bit to start blogging, and also to get stuck in to the wiki.  In the first week or 3, I checked several times a day to see which students had started their blogs, commented on any posts of theirs that were vaguely interesting to me, and fleshed out my blogroll.  All was manna and honey.

Then, the wheelnuts became a little loose, and eventually a wheel came off.  While most of this was due to external factors (there’s nothing like simultaneously managing a traumatic and ongoing condition affecting your surviving parent and managing a less-so but still traumatic ongoing situation affecting your eldest child to make you feel like a grown-up), some factors within the course were also present.

One was my belatedly noticing a shift in content requirement.  While I’ve never blogged before, I enjoy writing, and jeez am I opinionated.  Blogs, you would think, are a perfect forum for me, particularly as I’m not overly fussed if I have a tiny readership.  I eventually twigged, though, that my posts would be more appropriate to the course if they were decidedly academic in tone … and my enthusiasm wavered.

Another was the lack of engagement  from other students.  There were few others who commented on other people’s posts, at least while I was actively checking, and this also had an effect on my own engagement.  A side note – while I respect the right of others to have an ‘invite-only’ blog, I didn’t bother seeking an invitation to any of them.  There were plenty of others to read.  None of the locked ones appeared in the first fortnight… perhaps if they got in early I might have subscribed, but as it was I had a full blogroll by the time I saw them.  I also very quickly removed all obstacles to accessing my blog – no waiting for moderating of comments, for example.  I wonder – did the invite-only blogs have many subscribers?

To the wiki – my participation was far less than I anticipated, but this was mostly due to external factors.  I used to be a very active gnome on wikipedia, and I looked forward to dusting off my pedantry and making some contributions to existing articles.  Frankly, though,  the first articles I tried to tighten up were quite haphazard in structure and syntax … and probably content as well … and I allowed myself to be distracted by some of the harsh and thumping aspects of RealLife rather than wholly fix the articles and move on to others.  I don’t think of this as laziness, but objectively, I can see why another might (mistakenly!) reach that conclusion.  ;)

In summation: The blogs are a great idea.  The wiki was an interesting experiment.  The course was excellently structured and delivered (‘tho I think all at LaTrobe await an improved LMS.)  Any engagement issues I had were largely unrelated to elements within the course.

postscript – A side benefit for me is that I’ll probably indulge myself by maintaining this blog.  I’ve enjoyed the process.

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… am I STILL banging on about Facebook? I might look at David Brin as well.

Apparently, I still am.  In this piece in The Age recently, ‘arf’ commented

“I first encountered this notion in ‘The Transparent Society‘. The author (David Brin) is better known for his sf, but is quite up to writing a serious and thoughtful tome such as this. The main point is that, like it or not, the technology that allows universal surveillance is coming, and it will be used. The question then becomes how to deal with it.

Brin contends that the best approach is to insist on reciprocation: to watch the watchers. This is probably where Zuckerberg has picked up his philosophy of ‘radical philosophy’. It should be noted, however, that Brin does not advocate it aggressively, as Zuckerberg appear to be doing.”  (links here are added by me.)

Having had a look at Brin’s website for his book, he’s a bit more optimistic about the power held by the masses than I am.  He writes

Our society has one great knack above all others — one that no other ever managed — that of holding the mighty accountable. Although elites of all kinds still have many advantages over commonfolk, never before have citizens been so empowered. And history shows that this didn’t happen by blinding the mighty — a futile endeavor that has never worked. It happened by insisting that everybody get to see. By citizens demanding the power to know.”

I honestly don’t know if he’s right about this or not.  My head tells me that he probably is, assuming that ‘we’ means the one billion or less white western folk who take the internet for granted and not the whole 7 billion folk, many of whom don’t even have a reliable dial-up connection.  It’s a point I’ll be reflecting – and reading – on in the near future.  I say that Brin’s more optimistic than I am, though, because my heart tells me that most of this power is illusory.  The mass media and bloggers have been commenting on the data mining that companies like Google and Facebook – and many others – indulge in, and those discussions aren’t being shut down.  The data mining isn’t stopping, though.  Facebook’s user base is still growing – it DOUBLED between July ,09 and July ’10 -  and they keep coming up with new ways to gather and use the data.

That doesn’t make me feel too powerful.

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We still can hide – but only for as long as we defy the will of Zuckerberg.

Facebook places got some scrutiny when it was launched last month, as one would expect.  The Guardian’s had a look at “Facebook’s latest scheme“, as they put it, and it’s not too impressed – “The biggest threat to Facebook, Twitter and all the other stellar names in the social-media industry does not come from some ruthlessly hungry startup or a foreign dictatorship. No, it comes from the social-media industry itself. At least, that seems to be the most plausible interpretation of Facebook’s latest scheme, unveiled this week.” (back in August, this was.)

Zack Whittaker of zdnet is less ambivalent in his blog post on August 17. “Facebook, especially in light of the numerous serious privacy issues over the last year, will now be entrusted by you, the user, to your location data. Really? This apparantly (sic) is not a joke.”

ReadWriteWeb refuse to get hysterical.  “Facebook launched its mobile location feature last week, called Places, and just as the company deserves – there was intense scrutiny of the new feature’s privacy settings. It turns out that you can check-in friends as being at the same location you are in. That’s a new and perhaps counter-intuitive bit of social engineering. People have been calling it a bug, a privacy violation, a crime against human decency. I don’t think any of this criticism is going to hold up for long. Places has some privacy problems, but checking in other people isn’t one of them.”

The biggest problem they identify is more of an annoyance with some privacy implications. – “The real problems faced by Places include the boring Place listings and the unclear protocol for challenging a place’s title. If my family’s house gets submitted to Facebook Places as “Dusty’s Rehab Center for Retired Alcoholic Circus Clowns” – there’s no clear way to have that removed. More likely it could be tagged “Marshall Kirkpatrick’s house” and that’s not something I’d be happy about either.”

I’m not going to post any more of the hundreds of blogposts and tech-journalist takes on this – they’re easy to find online if you’re interested – but I did want to sample a representation from some of the vaguely respected sources.  I’d like to subscribe to the measured, calm, take-a-deep-breath response that Marshall from RWW suggests, although I’m not entirely convinced that this isn’t a worrying development.  One ‘truth’ that I do feel deep in the pit o’ me vitals, though, is that the thin edge of the wedge snuck in a while ago, and worrying developments are sure to come our way in the not-too-distant future.

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After nearly 30 years, suddenly I’ve apparently decided to trust Steve Jobs.

Well, to be more accurate, the decision’s been made for me.  My wife had an Apple IIe back in the day, so this is nothing new for her.  I’m just along for the iRide.

I’m typing this on our iPad.  Using the screen keyboard is a rather painful process if you like to punctuate correctly, as I do, but it’s about as sensible a layout as it could be, I think.

WordPress app? Check.  Facebook app? Check.  Countless other apps? Check. I’m beginning to understand why I see more and more FB updates through FB mobile.  The novelty factor’s already wearing off, though.

This is, obviously, a fairly content-light post.  I felt the need to use the new toy for this purpose – rushing ahead with new technologies without understanding their potential or dangers seems a very appropriate course of action for a DMC student to take, after all. ;)

Postscript – the word press app hasn’t let this be published.  I’ve had to use the browser.  That’s something I understand, anyway …

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At the risk of straying from the topic of online trust – sometimes, just sometimes, joining a FB page isn’t a waste of time.

Facebook brought Stephen Fry to Melbourne.  Thank you, Stephen.  Thank you, Facebook.

The rut I live in was too deep and wide for me to consider escaping for a night.  Bugger.

I didn’t really need to see him live, though. (Yes, I’m kidding myself, but bear with me for a moment.)  I’ve grown up with him.  Firstly through broadcast TV, then he became more accessible through both VHS & Beta.  And then, the newfangled digital media.

A quick look at his IMDB page suggests that I’ve seen more than half of the works he’s acted in.  Even the voicework for Pocoyo and Little Big Planet. (With thanks to my children.)  And I’m a fan of his novels, for that matter.

More to the point, though, I didn’t need to see him because he’s so accessible online.  He blogs.  He tweets.  He’s a presence in cyberspace, bless him, and I often amuse myself with his work.

Many good things have come from FB pages.  This is one of them.  I don’t expect to be commenting on many of the others, though.  Muttering darkly and looking askance at the world in general will resume in the next post.

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Trust you? I don’t even know you!

Below is a conversation I stumbled over on a commercial site’s facebook page which was posted an hour or so ago between persons A & B.

A] i do not want to use a credit card on the internet so is it possible to pay by check? if not is there any store that sells these in the united states

B]you can use paypal if you prefer that

A] what is paypal

I don’t know what your initial response to this was, but I can tell you that mine was to derisively snort and mock person A for being clueless, and not getting with the program. A little reflection turned me around, though.

Let’s leave the ‘what is paypal’ part of this alone.  We’ll just take from it an assumption that A isn’t used to online commerce.  I’m more interested in A’s reluctance to trust a faceless commercial entity with their credit card details, and my initial reaction.

I had a credit card (and then, later, a debit card)  before Al Gore invented the intertubes.  When online commerce began to take its first tentative steps back in the last century, it was a brave person indeed who’d trust their credit card details to the internet.  The media was full of horror stories of consumers who’d had their accounts plundered after providing their credit card details to online merchants.   During the 2 year period of  2001/2002, for example, over 50% of Australian online merchants were defrauded at least once when a consumer’s stolen credit card details were used to make an online purchase from them.  That figure strikes me as low, actually.

So, what’s changed?  Why do I now snort, instead of nodding sagely?

I have no idea.  And it troubles me that I don’t.  I shop online once a month or so – not very often, but I do it without concern.  And I don’t know why I started to trust the net.  It’s not as if fraud’s gone away, after all.    I think that it became harder to avoid shopping online, and easier to throw up my hands and go along with the crowd.  At some point it became easier to trust than not to trust, I suppose.

I only use a debit card.  Perhaps that was why I initially succumbed – I knew I couldn’t lose more than my life savings. Which doesn’t make that much sense, when I read what I’ve written.

I’ve never been ripped off online.  I avoid doing obviously stupid things, which must help to some degree.  And I think I’ve gone too far to cancel my paypal acct, or stop shopping online.  But it’s really eating away at me that I still have no idea why I decided to trust the web.

Person A, I apologise for mocking.  Instead, I salute you, and I urge you to hold firm to your principles and your doubts.

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There are some places on the interwebs where you’ll want to check your trust at the door.

Someone made a comment the other day which I found interesting.  They claimed that “An assumption of trust is central to all participation online.”  (OK, I’m being a tad disingenuous – it’s an essay topic set by my lecturer.  Still, I’d prefer to handle my initial exploration in a conversational style.)

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least one arena where trust is not assumed, and doesn’t exist.  It’s the battlefield of the troll. Believe it or not, gentle reader, there are fora in which people gather to batter each other with annoying arguments. Hate groups, for example, often attract those who have an opposing point of view, and sometimes there are enough adversarial souls present to ensure that it’s on for young and old.

I’ll not post links here. However, if you’re on Facebook, you could search on groups/pages that seek to impeach current or past presidents of the USA, that suggest that soldiers are or are not heroes, or that assert the superiority of X over Y.

In this setting, the posters have no desire to be tracked down by those they oppose. Fake profiles are common, and if the profile isn’t fake, the privacy settings are maxed out. Trust is a weakness to be exploited in this seamy section of the web.

I’ll not explore this theme any further just at the moment, but I hope I’ve shown that not all participation online requires trust among the participants.

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