Don't get me wrong. I think Wikipedia can be a great resource for fast information, like background on the Karbala shrine in Iraq or the name of Qaddafi's son that you can't remember. But when we check facts at FP, we deliberately exclude the community-built encyclopedia. There's just too much room for error there, and we've all found inaccuracies at one point or another—some major and some minor, but enough to leave Wikipedia off the list of reliable first sources.
Which is why I'm slightly mortified that U.S. courts are using Wikipedia articles as the basis for decisions. The NYT did a simple search recently and uncovered more than 100 judicial rulings in the past few years that rely on Wikipedia, including more than a dozen in U.S. courts of appeal (the last step before the Supreme Court). The facts gleaned from Wikipedia range from the definition of "beverage," to the official language of the Republic of Guinea, to DHS threat levels (that last one in a case about illegal searches of anti-war protesters).
But the mere fact that Wikipedia can be unstable and continually edited (admittedly with an attribution trail, but a complicated one that's susceptible to manipulation) makes it terribly vulnerable to error. It just shouldn't be used in official decisions, particularly because, as legal scholar Cass Sunstein suggested to the NYT, articles could be deliberately edited in order to influence the outcome of cases. I'm all for the courts embracing the Information Age, and I've always believed that the Constitution is a living document. But Wikipedia is just a little too dynamic for the likes of Lady Justice.
This very slick interactive chart and map can display correlations between everything from life expectancy and income per capita to contraceptive use, carbon dioxide emissions, military budgets, and the percentage of Internet users in countries around the world. You can use it to build your own comparisons. The map is the work of Gapminder, a Stockholm non-profit that, oddly enough, develops software to allow people to better visualize human development statistics.
Sweden is setting up shop in Second Life, the Internet fantasy world whose 3 million users interact with one another through cyber-characters called avatars. The country will be opening a virtual embassy, a 3D copy of the real thing in Washington, where Second Life users can get information about Sweden.
No, the Second Life embassy will not be issuing passports or visas; it'll just tell you how to get them in real life. No word yet on whether virtual Swedish meatballs and lingonberries will be served.
As for Swedish furniture giant IKEA, it seems they're missing a market opportunity here. I don't think it will be long, however, until IKEA follows Sears's lead and opens its own Second Life showroom.
MySpace is almost ready to launch local versions of its site in Canada and Mexico, with South Korean and Chinese versions soon to follow. MySpace, the world's largest online social networking site, encompasses 90 million unique users, 400 employees worldwide (double what it was six months ago), and nine national sites, with eleven new local sites launched six months earlier than expected. It's now overtaken yahoo.com as the most viewed site in the United States.
Since MySpace was bought by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation for $580 million in 2005, it has continued to grow by leaps and bounds, but its dramatic expansion has not come without a few hitches. Murdoch, with the help of his wife Wendi Deng, has been aggressively working on getting the site up and running in China. Because of strict foreign media laws (and restrictions on the free exchange of information—which have also burdened Google), MySpace China is likely to have local partners that would own 50 percent of the site, ensuring, as Murdoch carefully puts it, that MySpace is "a very Chinese site."
Launching MySpace in China adds a layer of complexity to the already-complex challenge of running a cacophonous, user-generated behemoth. In the past, the site has been hit with negligence lawsuits for failing to provide adequate child safety protections, and one of MySpace's founders, Brad Greenspan, even added his voice (and lawyer) to accusations of censorship and anti-competitive practices. Rupert Murdoch's headaches are bound to proliferate as MySpace adds millions of new users around the globe.
The apocalypse is nigh:
SECOND LIFE, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Reuters will conduct a series of interviews with artists, politicians and executives at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland next week, in front of a live Second Life audience.
Reuters Bureau Chief Adam Pasick will talk with guests including Linden Lab Chairman Mitch Kapor, author and entrepreneur John Battelle, former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, and musician Peter Gabriel during the WEF, which takes place Jan. 24-28. They will have their own customized avatars and will take questions from residents.
The theme of this year's WEF annual meeting is, appropriately enough, The Shifting Power Equation. Second Life, for those of you who may not know about it, is "a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents." Reuters now runs a Second Life "bureau" staffed by real-world tech journalist Adam Pasick, but his avatar's name is Adam Reuters. According to Reuters, $1,184,358 real U.S. dollars--that's million with an "m"--were spent in Second Life over the past 24 hours.
How do you retrieve a 21mm-thick fiber-optic cable from 2.5 miles below the ocean’s surface? Using 19th century technology, of course. On December 26th, Internet traffic across Asia was disrupted by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that damaged several undersea fiber-optic cables south of Taiwan. The outage affected Internet users from Australia to Hong Kong to Singapore.
So today, six ships are dragging specially-designed grappling hooks called "grapnels" across the ocean floor in the hopes of snagging one of the damaged lines. Initial efforts have been hindered by lousy weather, but Global Marine, the same company that laid the first undersea telegraph lines between France and Britain in 1850, expects to have all of the cables repaired by February.
Iranian blog king Hossein Derakhshan, better known as Hoder, was treated to a fawning profile in Haaretz on Friday. Despite having to sign a false confession before relocating to Canada and watching as the regime blocked his super-popular blog (www.hoder.com), Derakhshan, 31, remains unperturbed. He expresses his enthusiasm for the Iranian Revolution (much like Foucault, he thinks it embodied "a post-modernist idea"), labels the fact that women are forced to wear the hijab "an external matter," and describes Iran, after Israel, as the freest country in the Middle East. As for its anti-Jewish president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Derakhshan describes him as an Iranian George W. Bush: a nuisance that nobody likes anyway.
But where Derakhshan's bourgeois complacency really gets alarming is in his description of Tehran's nightlife:
I love Tehran. It's a huge, lively and varied city that's alive 24 hours a day. The restaurants are open until four in the morning." In fact, it's rather similar to Tel Aviv, he says, in terms of both architecture and character. "Young people in Tel Aviv and Tehran are listening to the same music and using the same drugs."
Is Derakhshan completely opiated? Doesn't he understand the nature of the Faustian bargain between middle class and regime in Iran? It's the classic example of a tottering authoritarian regime creating a radical disjuncture between political and civil society, granting the bourgeoisie the latter and sealing off the former.
Perhaps Iranian blog-surfers aren't missing much after all.
Much has been made of the transformative powers of the Internet in less-than-free societies. But before you get all gooey over Google in China, take a look at Baidu's lists of the questions most often typed into their search engine in 2006. They're divided into "how," "why," "what," and "should I" lists. Most of the top searches are either time-honored snoozers ("What is love?") or predictably materialistic ("How to get plastic surgery?"). We have to remind ourselves who is online in China—the elites. But take a look at these lists and then ask yourself: Do you see the makings of a revolution here?
Top 10 "Why" questions:
Top Ten "How" questions:
Top 10 "What Is" questions:
Top 10 "Should I" questions:
(Hat tip: Richard Spencer)
YouTube was recently blocked in much of Brazil when one of the country's largest fixed-line telephone operators responded to a judicial order banning a video of Brazilian supermodel Daniela Cicarelli, ex-wife of soccer star Ronaldo, apparently having not-so-surreptitious sex with her boyfriend on the beach.
The judge in the case said fixed-line operators that allow access to Internet providers must participate in the ban until YouTube complies with an order to prevent the steamy video from being viewed in Brazil.
It's a hot story in and of itself, but the case raises broader questions over who controls the Internet, or if regulation of any type is even possible. YouTube is based in the United States, but its videos are of course accessible worldwide. Whose laws should it obey, if it even can obey? YouTube says it has removed the racy clip, but people continue to upload it to the site using different names, according to the lawyer of Cicarelli's boyfriend.
The Cicarelli case proves that, for better or worse, the World Wide Web is still the Wild, Wild West—an unbridled force in a world with no universally recognized government.
Chants: Oh Muslim, arise, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
Oh Muslim, arise, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
We will return to Kabul – neither Bush nor Powell – oh heresy, don't even try, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
Oh heresy, don't even try, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
Regards to the Taliban, oh blessings of the All-Merciful, the Sunna after the Koran, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
The Sunna after the Koran, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
Regards to the Taliban, oh blessings of the All-Merciful, the Sunna after the Koran, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
The Sunna after the Koran, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
You are sufficient, oh Bin Laden, don't sign a truce, you are sufficient, oh Bin Laden, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
You are sufficient, oh Bin Laden, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
The rule of Jihad today does not require much thought, oh Muslim, arise, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
Oh Muslim, arise, there is a black-eyed virgin in Paradise.
The plane flew above the clouds, and their tower was destroyed in two strikes.
After nearly two years of media buzz, Germany has called it quits for Quaero, the European search engine. In April 2005, French president Jacques Chirac and then German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder announced the multibillion-euro project, a public-private venture funded by telecoms and governments from both countries. Quaero, which means "I seek" in Latin, was the most prominent and best-funded of international search engine projects meant to compete with Google.
But when Angela Merkel was elected chancellor in September 2005, she failed to show the same enthusiasm for the project as her predecessor. And over the past year, the Germans were said to favor the development of a next-generation text-based search engine, while the French preferred a more multimedia approach. Finally last week, Europe's largest country withdrew its support. The French vow to continue plugging away, but how long will it be until they realize that the wheel has already been invented?
Tunisian blogger Sami Ben Gharbia has created this fascinating Google Maps mashup of the prisons where political dissidents have been locked up by the Tunisian government. When you click on a marker, legal details about the prisoners' cases pop up, along with video from the dissidents and their families.
Tunisia has a long history of human rights abuses and harsh conditions in its network of secret prisons, so publishing this much politically sensitive and hard-to-obtain information has earned Gharbia plaudits from human rights advocates... along with the inability to return home from his exile in The Hague. The Tunisian government maintains one of the strictest online censorship regimes in the world, so it's hard to know to what extent Gharbia's map is reaching Tunisians inside the country.
Hat tip: Boing Boing
The astronomical success of YouTube and other "Web 2.0" sites led TIME magazine to name "You" their person of the year, beating out Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. FP Editor Moisés Naím has a short piece out in the LA Times on "YouTube journalism"—the idea that video clips shot by ordinary people and disseminated online can change the world.
Fifteen years ago, the world marveled at the "CNN effect" and believed that the unblinking eyes of TV cameras, beyond the reach of censors, would bring greater global accountability. These expectations were, to some degree, fulfilled. Since the early 1990s, electoral frauds have been exposed, democratic uprisings energized, famines contained and wars started or stopped thanks to the CNN effect. But the YouTube effect will be even more powerful. Although international news operations employ thousands of professional journalists, they will never be as omnipresent as millions of people carrying cellphones that can record video. Thanks to the ubiquity of video technology, the world was able to witness a shooting in a 19,000-foot-high mountain pass in Tibet.
The full version will appear in the January/February print edition of Foreign Policy. If you're not a subscriber, sign up today!
Naím mentions several videos, some of which were flagged by Passport in recent weeks. We've assembled them for you at the links below.
A Sky News reporter risks detention, even harm to report on the simmering discontent brewing in China over land grabs. But the victims haven't been waiting around for him to discover their misery. His report builds on footage shot by ordinary Chinese of clashes between peasants and government hired thugs, and of ordinary people being forcibly evicted from their houses.
It's that time of year, and everyone is making predictions about the year to come. In its own predictions of 2007, analysts over at Gartner Group anticipate that blogging will reach its peak by the middle of next year and level out at about 100 million. Why? According to Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer:
A lot of people have been in and out of this thing... everyone thinks they have something to say, until they're put on stage asked to say it.
We'll have to wait and see if the latest web phenomenon will remain as popular as it is now. One thing's for sure, Passport is here to stay.
In the run-up to the country's parliamentary elections this Saturday, cyber-activists in Bahrain are using Google Earth to highlight the excesses of the ruling al-Khalifa family. It's always surprised me that more authoritarian regimes do not block access to Google Earth. Bahrain has tried in the past, but its efforts to do so proved mostly futile. And since Google ratcheted up the resolution of its images of Bahrain, Google Earthing the royal family's private golf courses, estates, islands, yachts, and other luxuries has become a national pastime. Most Bahrainis have long known that these things existed, but they've been hidden behind walls and fences. Below are few representative examples of what many are seeing up close for the first time. Egyptian blogger Elijah Zarwan has also put together a nice compilation.
Germany's Deutche Welle hands out the Best of the Blogs awards each year to pioneering blogs in 10 languages, and this year's winners are a stellar lot. The judges (no strangers to blogging themselves) were clearly looking for sites that offer their readers a glimpse into different cultures and countries, exactly what a good blog should endeavor to achieve. Always one to promote our fellow bloggers around the world, Passport presents the top non-English-language blogs in the winner's circle.
Hat tip: Guardian news blog
Google Video is under attack by the Iranian government for posting a user's video that challenges the country's territorial integrity. The video says that Azeri provincial capital Tabriz is "in southern Azerbaijan, currently in the territory of Iran," the Guardian reports. Both the region and the city, however, have been part of Iran for more than 4,000 years.
Among the heaviest reactors: Iranian MP Valiallah Azarvash, who said: "An Iranian never accepts such slights. Since the second millennium BC, eastern Azerbaijan and Tabriz have never been separated from the body of Iran. How can they now belong somewhere else?" The Ministry of Information Technology has encouraged Iranians to bombard Google with emails of complaint.
The posting was likely permitted because it doesn't violate Google Video's content policy. However, it will be interesting to see how the company responds. Google already censors politically-radioactive material on its Chinese search engine to ensure it reaches the 111 million users in the Middle Kingdom. Will Google stock holders' ambitions for (personal) enrichment demand that they censor Farsi-language searches too?
Quick, name a mustachioed foreign journalist whose lust for women and penchant for quirky English earned him a massive Internet following. Did you guess Borat? Wrong. In the late 1990s, before British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen even had his own television show, the website of Turkish "jurnalist (sic), music and sport (sic) teacher" Mahir Cargi was drawing hundreds of thousands of hits.
Cargi is back in a recent Wired interview and he's mad. "All people know Sacha Baron Cohen imitate only me," he wrote to the magazine. "If possible you can help me too for stop this or find good lawyer?"
So, add at least one Turk to the majority of Kazakhs who have it in for the actor who plays Borat. Despite Kazakhstan Deputy Foreign Minister Rakhat Aliyev's recent invitation for Cohen to visit Kazakhstan, many in the country remain unhappy with his character. For instance, after boasting about his country's democratic reforms, Kazakh opposition leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbai said of Borat, "If I see him, I'll hit him in the face."
"In a country where the rules are more strict than ours, there would have been a government decree to destroy Borat," said what the AP describes as Kazahkistan's "most liberal political voice." In other words, Cohen may have all the fame and money, but at least Cargi doesn't have an entire nation calling for his head.
Los Alamos Country police, on what they thought was a routine domestic disturbance call at a local trailer park, found a rudimentary crystal-meth lab and three flash drives containing more than 400 pages of classified documents from Los Alamos National Labs. Four hundred pages.
"Potentially the greatest breach of national security" in decades, is how one official described it. That would probably be true if the U.S. government wasn't already publishing documents that explain how to build nuclear weapons on the Internet.
Honestly, given that the current administration is so cagey about security that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has threatened to prosecute journalists for revealing classified information, top secret nuclear documents are appearing in a lot of strange places.
The U.S. intelligence community, perhaps inspired by fans of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, has joined the Wiki craze, using Wikipedia's open-source software to create an online data-sharing system: Intellipedia. The system, which was launched in April, provides a forum for analysts from all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies to discuss and share information about global events. Officials hope that it will encourage innovative thinking and help avoid intelligence failures like those leading up to the war in Iraq. Intellipedia may even produce future National Intelligence Estimates. Its administrators have addressed security concerns by making the system private, imposing the same classification levels that exist in the offline world, and barring some information gathered from satellites and human sources. But still, something about an intel system developed with open-source software seems—how do I put this gently—extremely vulnerable to hacking.
While some observers are speculating that China's cessation of oil exports to North Korea in September is a sign that that the Middle Kingdom is exerting pressure on its neighbor, the Chinese are rejecting a different type of squeeze: free hugs. Influenced by a popular YouTube video, a group of people launched a grassroots campaign on the streets of Beijing, Changsha, and Xian over the weekend, offering hugs to strangers. Many passers-by expressed curiosity, but in the end declined the friendly embrace. In Beijing, four huggers were taken in for questioning by the police for not having the proper authorization. "It might pose a negative social impact," one officer said.
So, it appears the Chinese are uncomfortable with random huggings. A man from northern China found recently that the disdain extended to the animal kingdom when, emboldened by four beers, he jumped into a panda enclosure at the Beijing Zoo for a snuggle and was promptly attacked. Expect those who throw around the pejorative term "panda hugger" (to describe people who promote improved relations with China) to feel a bit emboldened by this episode unfortunately.
It looks like Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has another reason to hate the United States. According the DC-based Institute of World Politics, several American bloggers are responsible for the breakdown of a $630 million deal in which Chávez was to buy military aircraft from the Spanish firm EADS CASA. The company is claiming that it would have lost money on the deal, but several bloggers who have been following the story, including Professor J. Michael Waller at Venezuelastan, are being credited with forcing EADS CASA to reconsider. SecureTheHomeland.org, for example, initated a letter-writing campaign so U.S. citizens could express their distaste for the deal, even helpfully spelling out some of the negative consequences it perceived the purchase would have for Americans. According to that blog,
Here’s why doing business with EADS CASA is bad for the United States:
It would reward EADS CASA for ignoring US national security interests. It would reward EADS CASA for circumventing our nonproliferation laws and breaking our military embargo. It would pump billions of American tax dollars into a foreign company whose largest shareholders are the governments of France, Germany, Spain and Russia. It would help keep that company afloat as takes business away from American aircraft companies. It would inject cash into a jobs program for the ruling Socialist Workers Party of Spain, at the expense of allies who have stood by the United States and at the expense of American workers and companies. It would subsidize the profitless sale of aircraft to Hugo Chavez."
The campaign appears to have worked. Waller is calling the reversal "another example of the New Media's impact on international politics." (It's a phenomenon Dan Drezner and Henry Farrell documented in this FP article two years ago.)
For now, Chávez can be added to the venerable list of names thwarted by investigative bloggers. That is, at least until he finds some other country to sell him planes. A country that's perhaps less inclined to bend to American will. I'm sure he'll think of something.
Libya has reportedly reached an agreement with the American nonprofit organization, One Laptop per Child, to provide all of its 1.2 million schoolchildren with inexpensive laptop computers. The foldable, lime green $100 laptop, which, has the support of the UN Development Program, was developed by MIT's Nicholas Negroponte a year ago. The idea grew out of his experience in rural Cambodia, where after giving children Internet-connected laptops, their first English word was "Google." (Hmm, is that actually a positive effect of the attempt to bridge the digital divide?)
In return for its $250 million investment, Libya will get one server per school, a team of technical advisers, satellite internet service and other infrastructure. Scheduled to be completed in June 2008, the project could make Libya the first nation in which all school-age children are connected to the Internet through educational computers. Looks like Moammar Gadhafi is making good on his agenda to open Libyan society.
If you're Hungarian, your prime minister has been caught on tape admitting that he's lied and his administration "screwed up," and protestors demanding his ouster are descending on the capital city in violent riots, what's your first move?
Join the protestors? Take a long trip to Prague? How about secure the rights to Web domain "elkurtuk.hu," "WeScrewedup.com" in Hungarian? Three Hungarians are duking it out over ownership rights to the newly fashionable address, possibly to post the video of the prime minister's unfortunate admission. Probably to profit from the traffic that is certain to follow, assuming the Hungarian agency charged with handing them out will even allow it.
It's good news that Hungarians are fully embracing the benefits they might garner from postcommunist free markets. May the best capitalist win!
The Internet may have changed the world, but, let's face it, life goes on without it. In fact, there may even be times when people want to be disconnected from the Web. One of those times, apparently, is when flying.
After six years of research and sizeable investment, Boeing Co. annouced today that it is abandoning its "Connexion" unit that equips planes with high-speed Internet access. "Regrettably, the market for this service has not materialized as had been expected," Boeing's CEO said. In six years, only 11 airlines, mostly in Asia, had signed up for the service, which cost anywhere from $10 to $30 per flight.
Seriously people, just read a book.
The Guardian has put together its list of the top 15:
More on the continuing saga of Google and China. On Tuesday, Google founder Sergey Brin appeared to express some regret about Google's self-censorship on its Chinese search engine. Then Wired magazine's blog reported yesterday that Google is the target of a U.S. federal lawsuit for rejecting an online advertisement for the website ChinaIsEvil.com. Activist Chris Langdon alleges that the company stonewalled him when he submitted an ad for his bare-bones site (which decries China's policies and claims that Google, AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft are practicing censorship by refusing to let him advertise). In a nice twist, I was alerted to the Wired blog posting by a news alert in my Gmail account.
It's a little surprising that these information technology companies haven't been more prepared for all the complications that come from doing business in China. I mean, they trade in information. In China. It's not soft drinks or hamburgers, folks.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that Google founder Sergey Brin admitted his company may have acted a little too hastily in censoring results for its China search engine, and that it might consider reversing course. Brin said,
"It's perfectly reasonable to do something different, to say, 'Look, we're going to stand by the principle against censorship and we won't actually operate there.' That's an alternate path," Brin said. "It's not where we chose to go right now, but I can sort of see how people came to different conclusions about doing the right thing."
I wonder if Brin read the current issue of FP, in which David Vise questioned Google's commitment to its principles. At any rate, Google can't have been happy about all the backlash when it decided to do business in China. Personally, I'm on the fence about this. Censorship is clearly wrong, but I don't know if it helps the Chinese for Google to completely withdraw. At any rate, I do think that Brin has expressed some thoughtfulness with his statements yesterday. Too often, you hear corporate execs unequivocably touting free market principles without considering other implications. It will be interesting to see if Google actually does revamp its China policies. To keep up with all things search engine-related, check out Danny Sullivan's outstanding Search Engine Watch blog. By the way, I'm surprised that there hasn't been more about this in today's news, but I guess with British Parliament closing and gearing up for the World Cup, people have been otherwise distracted.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.