First, happy 5767 to everyone out there. It's 2am and the holiday is well underway. I'll be heading out to services in a few hours. The thought actually pleases me because right now I need a break from the readings. I am almost caught up and by next week some time, I'll be caught up. Fortunately, I can obtain all the nondownloadable readings locally right here in Atlanta. As I said searching for them was fun. It's amazing how much legal fun you can have.
I'm mainly going to comment about two readings. It is not that the others are unimportant, but I just have a lot to say about these two:
A Short History of Blogging By Dan Burstein
Yochai Benkler, 2006, The Wealth of Networks, How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, New Haven: Yale University Press, pp 1-34.
First, access costs to get on the net as a producer are still fairly steep. In theory, you can get on every day from the Public Library and have a Geocities or Blogspot account and voice away. In practice, all kinds of obstacles stand in your way. The public library back in Columbus, Georgia limited internet access to thirty minutes a day, and of course the library was only open limited hours. If you wanted to blog at 10pm Saturday night, you were out of luck.
Of course bloggers who do not have computers should have back up. Disks, and flash drives cost. Not all public computers let you make downloads. I was on a community terminal at Oglethorpe University last weekend and could not save a document I was writing to my flash drive due to security reasons. Backups are important since systems go down and blogs and web sites can get pulled and frozen.
Then there are all the human capital costs: Blogs look better when you can design their look and feel. That means you need some knowledge of graphics, style sheets, and html. It is also really necessary to have a home computer and an internet connection of some sort. You may have those all ready but you are still better off with them. That makes the capital investment about $600 initially and then $25/month thereafter, plus human capital.
Then strangely enough, you need to have to know how to write and be comfortable stringing together the written word in to empty space. The first is skill. The second of these requires a kind of faith in oneself which I derive from my faith in God. God always watches me blog and assures me of the most important audience in the universe. If you think this is weird, just remember God is omniscient so if He sees everything, my blog is no exception.
A lot of people feel very uncomfortable writing wordy essays. That is hard for graduate students and educated people to believe, but it's true. This is why so many email forwards and glurge circulate and why this site is so popular.
Second, from a technical viewpoint, blogs are not that earth shattering. Before blogs we have and still had web pages. These are not static. One can update them whenever one feels like it and providers such as Geocities offer browser based upload and browser based editing. My first reaction when I got my first blog was: "This is just like Geocities!" Haldis K. Guerrin, maintained a "pseudoblog" using Geocities. Later she chose a remotely hosted web board as a blog host. Remotely hosted web boards provide both community and a fairly good blogging platform (A blog can be a community of one). They are also easier to skin and configure than many traditional blogs if one does not want to content oneself with an out of the box design. These days the avatarim maintain a
community blog of sorts at Play Pretend Unlimited.
Of course, none of the blogging articles with the exception of the one by Gill, mentioned Geocities except in passing. They also left out Homestead which at one time was a major web publisher as well, and none of them mention MSN Groups. I found this strange but not surprising. The articles, especially the piece in Wired, speak warmly about a new journalistic elite of opinion formers.
I have a long internet memory and an old phrase flashed through my head: "trailer park of the internet." That is what people called Geocities. I also remembered Danny Brooks my old boss at Rainbow Vacuum Cleaners twenty years ago. Danny was the first working class adult (as opposed to a working class student at Cornell) whom I knew well. When I expressed shock and horror at the trailers in the rural Southern Tier, he reminded me that this was the way people owned property and that trailers were a good thing. The young adult from Westchester County learned an important lesson. Later I learned another trailer park lesson when preparing a pathfinder on drinking water quality in a government documents course for Marta Dosa at Syracuse. I remember telling Marta with absolute certainty that DIALOG searching was a prohibitively expensive option for a lot of people so I was recommending the library school's own Short Search. "What about a person living in a trailer park in Candor?" I asked. Thirty-five dollars, what Short Search cost in those days, was still a lot of money but it was the cheapest mediated search going. Of course end users searching was about to change everything or did it?
The folks with Geocities web sites were and are still important just as the folks in the trailer park in Candor or West Hill are. As I mentioned above, Geocities web pages are hardly static and easily reviseable. There are also ways to link them together just as there are ways to link blogs. One of these is web rings. Ring Surf will give you lists of web rings. For interactivity, Geocities style sites have Guestbooks. Of late these have become spam targets. That is sad. With Geocities and premade web sets or pretty good html and PSP (Paint Shop Pro) knowledge, one can put together an elegant and expressive site that puts most blogs to shame.
Of course Geocities users with their guestbooks and web rings, and MSN Groups users as well are "those people." Face it, the "global poor" may be very attractive to liberal politically correct types, but like Marta Dosa, they forget all about the working class stiff in the trailer park in Candor or West Hill.
Those people don't form opinion. Those people are not the new elite. Those people are often living in flyover country (Having lived in Columbus, Georgia for eight years and lived in Utica, New York for ten years before that, I can use this term without prejudice. Ithaca, New York is also flyover country though it feels urban and sophisticated.) or in "Red State America" don't hold the most liberal political views. They are overtly religious and sometimes nauseatingly patriotic in a weirdly knee-jerk way. On the other hand, they have an authentic voice and one worth a listen. They and I share a taste for colorful graphics though our subject matter differs. We also believe in defending private property. The only arguments I ever heard against using Napster to download files (which at that point I used and liked because this was before I became a staunch proponent of intellectual property rights. I have since deleted all my illegally obtained music files.) came from a woman in a ladies group with a Geocities style web site who told me flat out that I was stealing. Freedom means private property to this group and that is a great thing!
Third, I blog for me. You'll hear a lot of theological justification on this blog, but that is how it is. Most nights it is just me and God, but my faith keeps me writing. I also do my own drawing, scanning, and graphics creation. Faith in God gives one faith in oneself to produce. I think this faith is lacking in a lot of people. I wish there were a way to encourage it. I know I will never have an audience, but I don't care.
Fourth, blogs simply lack authority. This essay I am spewing out in the middle of the night here in Georgia is pure anecdote and opinion. I sign my first name and last name to it so you know I am real or at least appear so, but that is not much on which to go. When I teach web page evaluation, I admonish students to stick with name brand sources and to look for author qualifications. Most blogs just do not survive this test very well which makes them ill suited as source for college level term papers. That does not stop making them good leisure reading. Most of the blog-like sources I consult, are op-ed. Actually, for news I listen to the BBC Worldservice. I think they cover more international news and they are available on demand. They have real reporters, not just talking heads, that they can send to all kinds of foreign countries and war zones, and nice long stories.
Now on to Benkler: He was a tough slog. I am not a lawyer and never had a government course. That made him hard to understand. I think he misses on nonmarket collaborative goods in at least two subtle ways. First, all those lovely free goods created in an open source way have an odd way of not penetrating where they could do some good. I adore the Gimp and prefer it to Paint Shop Pro where I continued cutting my graphic teeth. I started cutting them on Paint which came bundled with McWrite and given away free long ago in the early eighties. I don't know how many times I pulled my poor trapezius muscle learning to pixel paint. Gimp makes great small work such as charms, quilt squares, and sig-tags due to its high resolution options and for vector work (Paths), it is much easier to use than PSP. Oddly enough, the GIMP has hardly penetrated in to the sig-tag and pressie (also quilt squares and charms) creating community. I am not sure why. My hunch is those of us in the trailer park just don't get to the other side of town to see the free goods on display.
Also, what good does open source software do in the face of outsourcing? Wouldn't it be better for Microsoft to rule and reign and have engineering, computer science, and call center jobs stay in the United States? If enough tech jobs are outsourced, we will train fewer techs and our population will become more ignorant in math and science? I'm surprised Benkler did not mention one word about outsourcing.
Third, the free enterprise system, market based systems of information distribution, is the friend of the little person, the denzien of the net's trailer park, if you will. I am a member of several MSN Groups and I know that these groups give their members much of the functionality of secret elite board systems such as Brainstorms (No you don't get a link fro me!). Members of MSN groups can store images without having to remotely load them. Those without rented web space or Photoshop accounts often have difficulty remotely serving small images. They can talk on boards. The community can be screened for privacy, but one puts up with a ton of advertisements in a big stripe at the top of the page and MSN's enigmantic terms of service and unresponsive support. I know because I am a group owner myself. Then there are ad supported free web space providers like Geocities, Angelfire, and Tripod. These too give the little person a place to express him or herself.
Fourth, private and intellectual property are important and maintaining them is good for civil society. Intellectual property is a hard concept around which to get one's intellectual arms. It is easy to believe that if you have good intentions and are not making any money, you should be able to just take someone else' words or images. Even people my mother's age believe this. Well, theft is a bad thing. Theft is wrong. Theft makes people lazy and stifles creativity. That means, if you want pressies, draw them yourself either using your graphics software or scan in a drawing you make. It will be all yours that way. If you want music or a movie, pay for it and support the artist and studio that makes that creation possible. If you want software, buy a registered copy.
Why go through all the time and trouble? The reason doesn't have to do with loving big corporations though free enterprise is often the best friend of the ordinary person. The reason is that theft is corrosive to a decent and ethical society. Respect for property is the first step toward respecting persons. If you respect people (and corporations are just groups of people. They are also "imaginary persons" too) you don't take their property. If you respect people, you treat them well.
It took my misadventure with Brainstorms (No link for these guys!) to teach me this hard lesson. Many Brainstormers have a view that it is all right to take samples of others work and they should be allowed to do this. Taking samples enhances creativity. We all build from each other's work. After my misadventure with Brainstorms where I was illtreated, I did some serious thinking about property and copyright. I don't sample from others' work any more. I create everything from scratch or use public domain images only in my graphics. I am back to pixel painting again and more creative than ever. An internet world with well obeyed and strong copyright laws is a better world for all of us.
By the way, I think the solution to copyright is a moral one. I would like to see a world where people look at a tube or a snag and ask: "where did you get this? Do you have permissions? Do they transfer?" and if the tube is of unknown origins or the snag comes without a transferable permission, the people viewing it turn their noses up at it because using stolen goods is like smearing oneself with feces. Imagine how much better we would all treat each other in a world where every one had that attitude.
I want to write more on all of these subjects. If you are coming from deep in the bowels of academia, you have probably never seen a pressie or a sig-tag. These are two of mine.
One uses sig-tags as signatures on MSN Groups and other bulletin board systems and sometimes in email. They are a personalized coat of arms. I guess we all need to become more graphically literate. I am glad I can draw. Here is one more sig-tag.
I have a habit of making corn sig-tags in the fall and gourd based ones as well. In the spring I make tulips and crocuses. Some night I'll do a full blown essay on the role of graphics and graphic literacy.
Now, though I want to tell two stories. One is sad and the other is not so sad, yet because it does not yet have an ending. On her team at the Webleagues Haldis had a fighter who called herself Lou Kennedy. Lou was a raw site fighter. She needed to learn the craft of begging for votes, doing spirit tasks, and self voting. Web site competitions require a large dose of faith in oneself to do the self promotion necessary to wage a good campaign. That for me starts with a faith in God. God made you. You have a soul. You are important.
Lou had faith. Lou had heart. Lou waged a modest campaign and unlike Thadea, she did not burn out. Fifteen months ago, Lou quit fighting to care for her terminally ill husband. Haldis offered to keep her on the team list and offer her an extended leave of absence. I remembered caring for a terminally ill cat, Evander, and knew that being tied to an invalid means down time. If Lou's husband went in to remission or if she had the down time, site fighting might make a good relief, especially at the level where Lou practiced it.
Lou never returned to fighting. Her husband died in December of 2005 and her page vanished. I don't think her husband's illness was the direct cause of the page's demise. Lou's site was on Homestead. The elites, even those running site fights, looked down on Homestead. Homestead hosted large, free, very graphic (in fact bloated) web pages to any one willing to put up with their big stripe, and if you could do real html and use their uploader which I could, they were one of the best free web hosts around. The server designed to handle bloated heavy sites, worked like greased lightening for a smaller well coded site.
In 2002, Homestead went to paid service. This sent shockwaves through many of the internet communities where I was active. At the time, Homestead, had a small free option (three web pages only!) and the paid options was thirty dollars a year. By the time Lou's web page disappeared, Homestead cost $120 per year. Lou could no longer afford to maintain her Garden of Dreams. Any one who thinks that web access is free or cheap should think of Lou Kennedy. Haldis did offer Lou to help her get reestablished on a free provider. Lou never wrote back.
Angelika's Web Designs and More competes at the Webleagues on Haldis' team. I am also a member there under my own name. I like the group because all the sig-tags there are not cheesecake. Some day I'll give you all my female form in sig-tags rant, but not this morning.
Angelika is about to undergo a test of faith. Her tightly run moderated sig-tag group is small. Being small is hard. Most of us have been raised to be so other directed that getting used to the fact that it is you and God out there most of the time and that you are important is a hard task. I hope Angelika learns this. I post at her group as a matter of support. I also show off my new siggies there. Angelika is also turning out to be an excellent, spirited, and well socialized site fighter. The team she is on is nonvote exchange so at some point, I may lose her if she wants to run a "real campaign" or if she begins to suspect that some of the nonvote exchanging fighters are breaking the rules and the Web Leagues has no mechanism of enforcement to stop them. I hope Angelika's group is still around six to twelve months from now, but it all depends on how much faith she can muster.
That is it for tonight. It is twenty to four here in Georgia. I've still got other work to do. Services are at 10am. Have a blessed, sweet, and fun 5767.