in other news…

February 29, 2008

Most mysterious non-story of the day is definitely here.

CSM gets optimistic about the falling death-rate in a Brazilian town..they neglect to mention until most of the way through that the population of the “town” is under 5,000…then they go on to compare its successful crime reduction with the murder-rate in Rio and São Paulo. Hmm.

The Guardian notes that more than 1 billion mobile phones were sold last year. More impressively, Nokia sold 4 out of every 10 of those billion.

It’s official (at least according to the UN), most of us humans will live in cities by the end of this year.

Lot’s of fluff about Microsoft’s EU fines and their newest interoperability initiatives. This has been generating more informed debates on the PSL mailing lists and Groklaw

Maybe I’ll have more to say about it tomorrow if I get around to figuring out what’s been going on in WIPO lately.

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The Guardian has a pretty lengthy piece about Joseph Stiglitz’ new book (co-authored by Linda Bilmes) on the true cost of the Iraq War.

The article is full of great factoids, but it’s hard to find the analytical concern driving this book. Basically, the whole business sounds like a glorified Harper’s Index…

Maybe I’m just being harsh.

A series of questions I’m working on at the moment and some of the resources I’ve found:

  • How do ideas move through the political blogosphere?
  • What role does the political blogosphere play in “agenda setting” within the mainstream media (msm), political party elites, and networks of expertise (think tanks, consultants, etc.)?
  • Do these roles vary for blogs on the right versus blogs on the left
  • Also, how does blog governance operate across the political spectrum? Is there a predominant model of community organization that has emerged? Are there patterns that correspond to whether the blogs come from right or left?
  • How do large, collaborative blogs produce stable community and governance structures? To what degree are they self-organizing and to what degree do they rely on various “levers” to reproduce stable patterns of collaboration and sufficiently low rates of defection?

Some interesting tools that should help me approach these problems include the following:

There are others (and I’ll try to keep adding them as I dig them up), but this is a good start. The big questions that I can try to answer here really have to do with the way this architecture (in the sense that a community design is often unplanned) relates to the “culture” of the political blogosphere. How does citizenship – or something like it – emerge in the blogosphere and other social spaces of the collaborative web? Why are the power-sellers uniting and what are they going to do?

A recent piece by Chris Wilson on Slate.com as well as some conversations with Yochai Benkler at the Berkman Center have gotten me thinking more seriously about the institutional side of web 2.0 and the organizational structure of social production.

It seems like there is a growing realization that the revolution in networked production has involved more than friendly collaboration among like minded amateurs. Anyone who frequents web 2.0 sites already knows this – wikipedia has its chaperones, amazon has its super-reviewers, digg has its preferred posters, etc. Furthermore, anyone with a background in organizational theory would expect this. There’s no reason to believe that pure peer-production could scale without costs or without the creation of disciplinary institutions of some kind. Nevertheless, Wilson’s piece reads like an expose – similar to this earlier Slate piece by Garth Risk Hallberg on Amazon Book Reviews. The rhetoric of openness and collaboration may yet come back to haunt these projects.

From a more analytical perspective, though, these pieces raise some really interesting questions. For example: how do the different kinds of regulatory systems work within each of these sites/communities? What systems scale most effectively? What mechanisms determine the emergence or success of one web 2.0 organizational structure over another?

I’m going to be doing some posting about these questions in relation to the mother-of-all-web 2.0-sites, Daily Kos in the near future (part of my work with Benkler). However, in the meantime, I wanted to take advantage of these articles to start thinking about how to design researchable questions about to these issues.

You might start with several different kinds of questions:

(a) What characterizes the institutional design of the community? What are the levers of control, manipulation, power, and consensus?

(b) How did the institutional design evolve over time?

(c) What problems does the institutional design solve? In particular, how does it elicit the collaboration of participants?

(d) Where are the contradictions and tensions most likely to emerge given the structure of the field elicited by the institutional design and the forms of power involved? Where does the institutional design break down?

All of these lend themselves to very different kinds of research strategies.

Hello world!

February 27, 2008

Nothing much to add to this one. The title says it all.

The (less than stellar) sub-name of this blog comes from a C. Wright Mills essay, “On Intellectual Craftsmanship,” in which he argues that a sociologist “must set up a file, which i, I suppose, a sociologist’s way of saying: keep a journal.”

The essay is reproduced all over the web, or you can find it in The Sociological Imagination

Kieran Healy referred to this idea in a recent post about blogging and wasting time…