Work and employment on the Net, part 1

February 12, 2007

Sorry for the delay in responding to your questions in class last week… as far as contract/freelance work goes, I really can only find computer-related sites. These jobs can range from designing logos to fixing a webpage to programming an application. A site that presents well is

Another question was about learning how to work with online APIs like Google Maps. A good starting place is

Finally, if anyone has questions or would like advice, you can contact me at benbakelaar at gmail dot com!

Telecommuting, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, and cybercities

February 3, 2007

Everyone who was around in the ’90s probably remembers the media promises of a revolution in work, where within 10 years people would be able to telecommute from their homes to work. As we know, that vision has been somewhat delayed – many office workers now have a “virtual” office that follows them around, through VPN’s, laptops, cell phones, PDAs, and corporate VoIP systems, but it’s not the same as working 5 days a week from home.

One of the earlier posts references the “Web 3.0” blog by AndroidTech, and in it there is a future scenario where a worker is telecommuting, in Minority Report style. While we aren’t there yet, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk takes the world one step closer. By creating a protocol-based system that utilizes human intelligence to complete pattern recognition and other tasks not completable by a computer program, it allows for the beginnings of a cyber-economy where offshoring, inshoring, and outsourcing no longer matter – the workers can come from anywhere with a decent connection.

The first media example I’ve seen of a demonstrated use of the system is here, in an article detailing the high-tech search for missing Microsoft researcher James Gray. Silicon Valley’s high-tech hunt for colleague

In particulare, note this paragraph:

Once the satellite’s images were received by imaging experts on Thursday, Digital Globe engineers worked on making them accessible to engineers at Amazon, who divided them into manageable sizes and posted them to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk site, which allows the general public to scrutinize images in search of various objects.

“This is a first sift through these images,” said Werner Vogels, chief technology officer at Amazon, who had Gray on his Ph.D. committee at Vrije University in Amsterdam. “If the volunteers see something, we ask them to please mark the image, and we’ll take all the images that have been marked and review them.”

Mobile virtual communities, ubiquitous computing, and cybercities

January 30, 2007

Howard Rheingold is one of the most prominent names in online communities. He was part of the Well, a profilic online community that formed in the early 1980s. The link below contains some commentary from 2003 on mobile virtual communities – meaning, online communities (i.e. MySpace, YouTube) accessible via mobile/cellular (i.e. MySpace Mobile, TinyTube, etc.). 4 years layer, the effects are only just bubbling up to the surface of the average user!

In particular, note this bullet point, and consider its implications in an urban environment in terms of high population density.

Mobile communications are – Closely coupled to the behavior of people in physical space , and have strong effects on how small social groups coordinate activities in geographic communities.

Howard Rheingold commentary

As accessing the Internet via mobile/cellular/portable becomes much more common and affordable, the specter of ubiquitous computing becomes more real. There just so happens to be a great brainstorm on this very topic in the latest Wired issue, see below.

Consider this paragraph in particular:

As we turn real-world objects — and ourselves — into data packets, our lumpy desktop computers will fade into the background, integrate with our clothes and bodies, and dip beneath the level of our conscious perception. Information and environment will meld. As a result, says Greenfield, “some of the most interesting ideas current in interaction design are being worked out at the scale of the city.” article

Also be sure to check out the links provided in the article:

Sterling’s book Shaping Things, his lectures on the subject and his blog.

Greenfield’s Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing, his interviews and his blog V-2.

Growth and structure of the net

January 24, 2007

Today in class you will be talking about the history and future of the Internet. I encourage everyone to consider the history of the Internet further back than its “birth” as ARPAnet in the late 1960s – even back to the beginning of the first electronic communications network, the telegraph, nearly 100 years earlier. I just found this very well-researched book at my local library – History of the Internet: A Chronology, 1843 to the Present, by Christos Moschovitis, published in 1999. It doesn’t really focus on the telegraph network, instead outlining a chronology of technical developments in computers which led to the personal computer. But still, if you’re interested in this topic, it’s a great starting point.

As for the current state and near future of the Internet, an article from New Scientist magazine published this past week, entitled “Interview: Over the internet border” is available in the Sakai site and provides a nice perspective on the Internet as a collection of “internets” rather than “one common internet”. The impact of the next billion users coming from developing nations such as China, India, and Russia is hard to guess at, but any notion of English as a global language (of the internet) is sure to fall. In fact, just several months ago (in 2006) there were major concerns when China threatened to implement its own DNS (Domain Name System), which would compete with the American-controlled ARIN/RIPE registries which dole out .com, .net, .org and other web site suffixes. The concerns were posed as “splitting the ‘net in two”, which is somewhat of an exaggeration if you agree that the idea of a unified Internet has always been a myth. Also, at a United Nations conference last year, many of the smaller (in size) nations of the world complained of the American dominance over the backbone of the Internet, an accusation which the United States responded to by claiming no other organization or entity could maintain it equitably and “free”.

So that just provides a very recent history of the trajectory that Internet development is on, and the pace of change for the forseeable future will only increase. As for the future further out, talking about 4g and Web 3.0, I hope to get to those in my next post.

Quick link: e-health

January 23, 2007 article

AOL co-founder Steve Case launched a health Web site on Monday that will offer free and paid services including social networking tools for sharing information on doctors, insurance and other health topics.

In a statement, the new site, Revolution Health, bills itself as an online location for resources on health conditions and healthy-living topics combined with community and social-networking features.

Mashups, platforms, and Layer 8 of the OSI model

January 23, 2007

Two posts ago, I outlined two concepts crucial to understanding the Internet… networks and layers. At the end, I mentioned how the current crop of “mashups” are really what I would consider the “platform” layer. In this blog entry,

Now let’s step back and consider what it means to be a ‘platform’. I came across a definition I like in a comment Emil Sotirov made on Jeff Jarvis’ weblog. Emil said that in the context of his work at AidPage “we call platform the thing that we want to enable (”people aid people”)… and not the web media by which we would enable it.”

This is what I have been exploring in relation to Web 2.0. Developers building software platforms is just one half of what Web 2.0 means. The other half is what everyday people build on top of those platforms.

So Web 2.0 is the Web as a platform. But don’t forget that it’s not just about techies developing software on the Web, it’s about everyday people using the Web as a platform for community, business, media and life in general.

So, Google Maps as a platform is not just the tools Google provides users, but also the mashups people create, which can themselves turn into platforms of their own by allowing integration of other data formats and sources not natively supported by Google.

Cybercities as virtual environments

January 19, 2007

Although the class is using the term cybercities to refer to the way in which technology is impacting the urban environment, an equally interesting (and somewhat more common) definition of cybercities is a “virtual” city (or world, or community). See the links below for further reading, and think about how these two definitions are interrelated – real cities have high population densities, better service infrastructures (e.g. high-speed internet), and generally higher wages. These factors might combine to affect virtual cities disproportionately – that is, urban dwellers may make up a majority of virtual community users, such as Second Life. No definites here, just a theory.

Topical news link: article
In particular, pay attention to the second blog response from Cyde Weys Musings.

Blog link:
Note the citation – Carter, Denise. Living in Virtual Communities: An Ethnography of Human Relationships in Cyberspace. Information, Communication & Society, Volume 8, 148-167. I’ll try to check it out and report back on it’s impact.