Tag Archives: free culture

Why Old Media and Social Media Don't Get Along

Earlier today I did a brief drop in phone interview on CPAC’s Goldhawk Live. The topic was “Have social media and technology changed the way Canadians get news?” and Christoper Waddell, the Director of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Chris Dornan, Director of Carleton University’s Arthur Kroeger School of Public Affairs were Goldhawk’s panel of experts.

Watching the program prior to being brought in I couldn’t help but feel I live on a different planet from many who talk about the media. Ultimately, the debate was characterized by a reactive, negative view on the part of the mainstream media supporters. To them, threats are everywhere. The future is bleak, and everything, especially democratic institutions and civilization itself teeter on the edge. Meanwhile social media advocates such as myself are characterized as delusional techno-utopians. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Indeed, both sides share a lot in common. What distinguishes though, is that while traditionalists are doom and gloom, we are almost defined by the sense of the possible. New things, new ideas, new approaches are becoming available every day. Yes, there will be new problems, but there will also be new possibilities and, at least, we can invent and innovate.

I’m just soooooo tired of the doom and gloom. It really makes one want to give up on the main stream media (like many, many, many people under 30 have). But, we can’t. We’ve got to save these guys from themselves – the institutions and the brands matter (I think). So, in that pursuit, let’s tackle the beast head on, again.

Last, night the worse offender was Goldhawk, who tapped into every myth that surrounds this debate. Let’s review them one by one.

Myth 1: The average blog is not very good – so how can we rely on blogs for media?

For this myth, I’m going to first pull a little from Missing the Link, now about to be published as a chapter in a journalism textbook called “The New Journalist”:

The qualitative error made by print journalists is to assume that they are competing against the average quality of online content. There may be 1.5 million posts a day, but as anyone whose read a friend’s blog knows, even the average quality of this content is poor. But this has lulled the industry into a false sense of confidence. As Paul Graham describes: “In the old world of ‘channels’ (e.g. newspapers) it meant something to talk about average quality, because that’s what everyone was getting whether they liked it or not. But now you can read any writer you want. Consequently, print media isn’t competing against the average quality of online writing, they’re competing against the best writing online…Those in the print media who dismiss online writing because of its low average quality are missing an important point. No one reads the average blog.”

You know what though, I’m going to build on that. Goldhawk keeps talking about the average blog or average twitterer (which of course, no one follows, we all follow big names, like Clay Shirky and Tim O’Reilly). But you know what? They keep comparing the average blog to the best newspapers. The fact is, even the average newspaper sucks. The Globe represents the apex of the newspaper industry in Canada, not the average, so stop using it as an example. To get the average, go into any mid-sized town and grab a newspaper. It won’t be interesting. Especially to you – an outsider. It will have stories that will appeal to a narrow audience, and even then, many of these will not be particularly well written. More importantly still, there will little, and likely no, investigative journalism – that thing that allegedly separates blogs from newspapers. Indeed, even here in Vancouver, a large city, it is frightening how many times press releases get marginally touched up and then released as “a story.” This is the system that we are afraid of losing?

Myth 2: How will people sort good from low quality news?

I always love this myth. In short, it presumes that the one thing the internet has been fantastic at developing – filters – simple won’t evolve in a part of the media ecosystem (news) where people desperately want them. At best, this is naive. At worse, it is insulting. Filters will develop. They already have. Twitter is my favourite news filter – I probably get more news via it than any other source. Google is another. Nothing gets you to a post or article about a subject you are interested in like a good (old-fashioned?) google search. And yes, there is also going to be a market for branded content – people will look for that as short cut for figuring out what to read. But please people are smarter than you think at finding news sources.

Myth 3: People lack media savvy to know good from low quality news.

I love the elitist contempt the media industry sometimes has towards its readers. But, okay, let’s say this is true. Then the newspapers and mainstream media have only themselves to blame. If people don’t know what good news is, it is because they’ve never seen it (and by and large, they haven’t). The most devastating critique on this myth is actually delivered by one of my favourite newspaper men: Kenneth Whyte is his must listen-to Dalton Camp Lecture on journalism. In it Whyte talks about how, in the late 19th and early 20th century NYC had dozens and dozens of newspapers that fought for readership and people were media savvy, shifting from paper to paper depending on quality and perspective. That all changed with consolidation and a shift from paying for content to advertising for content. Advertisers want staid, plain, boring newspapers with big audiences. This means newspapers play to the lowest common denominator and are market oriented to be boring. It also leaves them beholden to corporate interests (when was the last time the Vancouver Sun really did a critical analysis of the housing industry – it’s biggest advertisement source?). If people are not media savvy it is, in part, because the media ecosystem demands so little of them. I suspect that social media can and will change this. Big newspapers may be what we know, but they may not be good for citizenship or democracy.

Myth 4: There will be no good (and certainly no investigative) journalism with mainstream media.

Possible. I think the investigative journalism concern is legitimate. That said, I’m also not convinced there is a ton of investigative journalism going on. There may also be more going on in the blogs than we might know. It could be that these stories a) don’t get prominence and b) even when they do, often newspapers don’t cite blogs, and so a story first broken by a blog may not be attributed. But investigative journalism comes in different shapes and sizes. As I wrote in one of my more viewed posts, The Death of Journalism:

I suspect the ideal of good journalism will shift from being what Gladwell calls puzzle solving to mystery solving. In the former you must find a critical piece of the puzzle – one that is hidden to you – in order to explain an event. This is the Woodward and Bernstein model of journalism – the current ideal. But in a transparent landscape where huge amounts of information about most organizations is being generated and shared the critical role of the journalist will be that of mystery solving – figuring out how to analyze, synthesize and discover the mystery within the vast quantity of information. As Gladwell recounts this was ironically the very type of journalism that brought down Enron (an organization that was open, albeit deeply  flawed). All of the pieces of that lead to the story that “exposed” Enron were freely, voluntarily and happily given to reports by Enron. It’s just a pity it didn’t happen much, much sooner.

I for one would celebrate the rise of this mystery focused style of “journalism.” It has been sorely needed over the past few years. Indeed, the housing crises that lead to the current financial crises is a perfect example of case where we needed mystery solving not puzzle solving, journalism. The fact that sub-prime mortgages were being sold and re-packaged was not a secret, what was lacking was enough people willing to analyze and write about this complex mystery and its dangerous implications.

And finally, Myth 5: People only read stories that confirm their biases.

Rather than Goldhawk it was Christopher Waddell who kept bringing this point up. This problem, sometimes referred to as “the echo chamber” effect is often cited as a reason why online media is “bad.” I’d love to know Waddell’s sources (I’m confident he has some – he is very sharp). I’ve just not seen any myself. Indeed, Andrew Potter recently sent me a link to “Ideological Segregation Online and Offline.” What is it? A peer reviewed study that found no evidence the Internet is becoming more ideologically segregated. And the comparison is itself deeply flawed. How many conservatives read the Globe? How many liberals read the National Post? I love the idea that somehow main stream media doesn’t ideologically segregate an audience. Hasn’t any looked at Fox or MSNBC recently?

Ultimately, it is hard to watch (or participate) in these shows without attributing all sorts of motivations to those involved. I keep feeling like people are defending the status quo and trying to justify their role in the news ecosystem. To be fair, it is a frightening time to be in media.

When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

And I refuse to lie. It sucks to be a newscaster or a journalist or a columnist. Especially if you are older. Forget about the institutions (they’ve already been changing) but the culture of newsmedia, which many employed in the field cling strongly to, is evolving and changing. That is a painful process, especially to those who have dedicated their life to it. But that old world was far from perfect. Yes, the new world will have problems, but they will be new problems, and there may yet be solutions to them, what I do know is that there aren’t solutions to the old problems in the old system and frankly, I’m tired of those old problems. So let’s get on with it. Be critical, but please, stop spreading the myths and the fear mongering.

Opening Parliament and other big announcements

This is going to be an exciting week for online activists seeking to make government more open and engaged.

First off, openparliament.ca launched yesterday. This is a fantastic site with a lot going for it – go check it out (after reading my other updates!). And huge kudos to its creator Michael Mulley. Just another great example of how our democratic institutions can be hacked to better serve our needs – to make them more open, accessible and engaging. There is a ton of stuff that could be built on top of Michael’s and others – like Howdtheyvote, sites. I’ve written more about this in a piece on the Globe’s website titled If You Won’t Tell Us About Our MPs Well Do It For You.

Second, as follow on to the launch of openparliament.ca, I’ve been meaning to share for some time that I’ve been having conversations with the House of Parliament IT staff over the past couple of months. About a month ago parliament IT staff agreed to start sharing the Hansard, MP’s bios, committee calendars and a range of other information via XML (sorry for not sharing this sooner, things have been a little crazy). They informed me that they would start doing this before the year is over – so I suspect it won’t happen in the next couple of months, but will happen at some point in the next 6 months. This is a huge step forward for the house and hopefully not the last (also, there is no movement on the senate as of yet). There are still a ton more ways that information about the proceedings of Canada’s democracy could be made more easily available, but we have some important momentum with great sites like those listed above, and internal recognition to share more data. I’ll be having further conversations with some of the staff over the coming months so will try to update people on progress as I find out.

Finally, I am gearing up to launch datadotgc.ca. This is a project I’ve been working on for quite some time with a number of old and new allies. Sadly, the Canadian government does not have an open data policy and there is no political effort to create a data.gc.ca like that created by the Obama administration (http://www.data.gov/) or of the British Government (http://data.gov.uk/). So, I along with a few friends have decided to create one for them. I’ll have an official post on this tomorrow. Needless to same, I’m excited. We are still looking for people to help us populate the site with open government data sets – and have even located some that we need help scraping – so if you are interested in contributing feel free to join the datadotgc.ca google group and we can get you password access to the site.

YouTube Interviews: Strengths and Weaknesses

I’m pretty much expecting to wake up today and read a number of stories about how the YouTube interview of the Prime Minister didn’t work, about how we should leave interviews to journalists, and that all this internet, audience driven stuff is a big waste of time.

I’m not sure I agree.

Was the interview good? It wasn’t amazing. But was it terrible? Definitely not. And not nearly as bad as some interviews with the Prime Minister that I’ve seen… So what worked and what didn’t work and what lessons can we draw from all this whether you live in Canada, the United States or wherever else in the world. What makes for a good crowdsourced interview?

Weaknesses:

Be careful of refocusing questions: Many of the Prime Minister’s responses were great. However, during some of the questions the Prime Minister reverted to some very well trodden talking points – or didn’t even answer the specific question asked. For example the question on mandatory minimum sentences he spoke of the Canadians say they want, not what, as the question stipulated, the research shows and the question of Marijuana become about drugs writ large – not about cannabis specifically. This is, of course, standard practice among politicians when answering reporters questions. The challenge is, that if these types of forums become popular and are watched by a number of people, it is unclear how favourable people will view a politician who avoids – however delicately or lightly – a question posed by a citizen. Maybe this medium changes nothing – but I again agree with Ivor Tossell and many others have to say:

Succeeding with social media comes down to being honest, having a frank, unfiltered voice and letting personality go along with policy.

Re-directing questions does not qualify. The public recognizes that journalists are not politicians friends and so give politicians more license when dealing with them – not so when dealing with a smart clear question from a fellow citizen.

Follow Up Questions: This of course raises the formats main weakness. There are no follow up questions allowed. So when someone evades or redirects a question there is no way to hold them to account. This doesn’t mean accountability and credibility disappear. Again, as I noted on Monday, its simply shifts onto the shoulders of the interviewee. You must now genuinely engage the question as the question asker intended. If not, I suspect you come out looking worse.

Pick your interviewer carefully. Here in Canada, Google elected to use their CFO Patrick Pichette (and ex-expatriate Canadian). I’ve only met him once at a small lunch in Montreal but I have a lot of time for him. He immediately struck meas insightful, quick and deeply intelligent. I’m also not sure he was the right choice for interviewer. Throughout the interview he is heard making sounds of agreement with the Prime Minister (such as saying “that’s terrific” after an answer) as though affirming the answer. This felt outside his role and prevented the questions from being as pointed as I believe the authors wished they would have been. All in all, the feel was less of an interview than of a friendly conversation.

Strengths:

Ask the most voted questions: Sadly, the couldn’t find a way to see the questions or how many votes they had received (#fail on google’s part there – accountability denied), but I did recognize many of the questions asked and am doubly impressed that a question on marijuana. In short, if you make a contract with the audience – eg you are going to ask the questions with the most votes… you’d better do it. I also thought many of the questions asked were quite good. Focus on the budget, Afghanistan, Foreign Aid (two foreign policy questions! two more than the last election debate in this country!), pensions, the carbon emissions policy… a good mix. Wish I knew if they were actually the questions with the most votes though…

Broadly people ask good question/but could do with some advice: Many of the questions were reasonable tough and well put. Some were a little long, and others had too many caveats that allow the interviewee to latch on to and avoid the main thrust of the inquiry. Might be good to model a good question to viewers in terms of focus and length as well as provide some written advice. I actually enjoyed seeing people ask questions and think the process could be stronger still.

Video Questions are better than read questions: Lesson for the audience. Submit your question via video. Better still, if you live in a bilingual country, try to subtitle it (Wouldn’t that be a cool thing to be able to do). The video questions really allowed the medium to show itself off, far more interesting to see a young women asking a question from her kitchen than to have an interview read it…

(Advice) Share each answer as a small video: If you really want citizens talking about issues, Google should share the entire interview, but also each individual question and answer. That way there can be questions specific comments on the YouTube site, people can blog about a specific question that concerned them and show only that question in the post, or people can simply zero in on the issue they care about most. The whole point of the internet is that information can be moved around easily – so if you are doing an interview… make it easy for your audience to share the part they cared about by making it digestable.

Be Real: The Prime Minister shone best when he was at his most conversational and relaxed. Indeed, this in part came through during the Marijuana question – his response was emotionally fantastic, he seemed genuinely concerned and possibly even off his speaking points a bit (or maybe just smooth enough to fool me, but I suspect not). Even though I found he answer infuriating – he seemed to completely forget all the lessons of prohibition (and, in effect, label every beer brewer in the country a scumbag) – he was at least human. And that’s when social media works best, when we get to see people being human. Otherwise, you just look wooden and, frankly, uninteresting.

Today in the Globe: Facebook's Political Reach

I have the following piece published in the Globe and Mail today. It isn’t going to further endear me to Michael Valpy (who is already not impressed with me)… but felt another perspective on the issue was needed. He, like many traditional columnists, is not a fan of social – or digital – media. Indeed, he has argued it is destroying our country’s social cohesion and democracy. Those familiar with me know I feel differently . By allowing us to self-organize, connect to one another and to our politicians, social media is enabling a different and very powerful type kind of social cohesion and democratic expression.

I respect Valpy a lot and hope we get a chance to sit down and talk social media at some point. Given our collective interest in journalism and statements like this, it feels like it would be fruitful for both of us. Hopefully it will happen.

Facebook’s Political Reach

Yesterday, Michael Valpy posted an interesting piece about a Nanos poll showing Canadians – including younger Canadians – question how much influence political Facebook groups should have on any government.

The problem with the piece lies in the headline: “Facebook forums shouldn’t sway government, young Canadians say.” It suggests that online activism – or social media in general – isn’t credible with the public. This, however, isn’t what the poll showed. Indeed, the poll says little about the credibility of Facebook, particularly compared to other forms of political activity. It does, however, say a lot about social media’s dramatic growth in influence over the past five years.

Critically, the poll didn’t compare forms of political activity. If one had done a similar poll asking whether Canadians believe a demonstration should sway the government, or if direct action – such as when Greenpeace hung a banner from Parliament – should alter government policy, would the numbers have been dramatically different? I suspect not. Governments have electoral mandates – something Canadians broadly agree with. Most political activity, both on and offline, is designed to shape public opinion and ultimately, people’s decisions at the ballot box. That is a threat influences government.

Consequently, it may not be the medium that matters as much as the number of people involved. Do people believe the government should pay attention to a 1,000 person rally? Likely not. Should they pay attention to a 10,000 person Facebook group? Likely not as well. But at a certain point, with large enough numbers, almost any medium matters. Would people think that the government should reconsider a policy in the face of 10-million-person petition? Or a five-million-person Facebook group? Possibly. What about a 500,000-person march? Even this might prompt respondents to reconsider their response.

Ultimately, the Globe article jumps to a negative interpretation of Facebook too quickly. This is understandable in that traditional news organizations are still coming to grips with social – and digital – media. But by allowing us to self-organize, connect to one another and to our politicians, social media is enabling a different and very powerful type kind of social cohesion and democratic expression.

More interesting is how split Canadians appear to be over political groups using Facebook “to share ideas, information and to help mobilize their activities” (30 per cent have a positive view, 30 per cent have a negative view and an enormous 40 per cent are undecided). Here is a technology few Canadians knew existed five years ago, and it is already viewed favourably by a third of Canadians as a way to engage with political groups. As people become more familiar with these online activities I suspect comfort levels will rise, since many people often don’t initially understand or like new technologies. This survey shows us online political organizing is moving into the mainstream – perhaps even more mainstream than a protest or a petition.

So should Facebook influence the government? The prorogation debate shows it already can. But do people believe Facebook should be less influential than other (more traditional) forms of political activity? In this, the survey reveals very little. Indeed as Nik Nanos, the pollster who conducted the survey, adds at the end of the piece (and in contrast to the title): “we still haven’t come to grips with what [Facebook groups] really mean.”

Withholding FOI requests: In the Private Sector, that's fraud

It was with enormous interest I read on the Globe’s website about a conservative Ministerial Aide “unrealeasing” a document requested by The Canadian Press through an Access to Information request (The Access to Information Act ensures that citizens can request information about the government’s activities).

A federal cabinet minister’s aide killed the release of a sensitive report requested under freedom-of-information in a case eerily similar to a notorious incident in the sponsorship scandal.

What I find fascinating is the neither the minister (now at Natural Resources Canada) or the aide have been asked to resign.

Let’s be abundantly clear, if this were the private sector and a CEO was caught deliberately withholding material information from a shareholder… that would constitute either fraud and/or a violation of whichever provincial securities laws he/she was bound by. Moreover, such a crime that could carry with it a prison sentence.

And yet here, in the most cavalier manner, one of the most basic trusts that ensure accountability in our system is violated with almost no repercussions.

The story does have its dark humour (and a embarrassingly feeble attempt at an excuse):

Mr. Paradis’s current communications director said Mr. Togneri’s intervention was to suggest the Access to Information section offer fewer pages to the requester without charge rather than the entire 137 pages for a fee of $27.40, which had already been paid.

“He went through and thought that a huge section of a very big report wasn’t relevant and that you should be given the option of paying to get it or get the (smaller) chapter” without charge, Margaux Stastny said in an interview. “No one can overrule Access officers.”

The options were never provided to the requester, however. Instead, the department simply sent the censored report and refunded the fee.

Yes, I too am always comforted to know that my government is thinking of me and trying to save me a few pennies by ensuring I don’t see information they know I need not waste my time on.

I, of course, have another solution for how the photo copying money could be saved. What about emailing a digital copy of the report? Of course Access to Information requests (called ATIP or FOI for those in the US) are always handed out in paper, just to ensure you can’t do anything too useful with them… oh and to help ensure that they are late in delivering them.

So while, in this case, the Minister’s staff has committed an enormous gaffe – one that should have (and yet probably won’t) political implications, it is also a window into a broader problem:

FOI = broken.

I belong to a generation that gets information in .3ms (length of a google search) if you take 80 days to get my request to me (and edit it/censor it), you are a bug I will route around. This isn’t just the end of accountability in government, this is the end of the relevancy of government.

CBC: A Case Study in what happens when the Lawyers take over

Like many other people, I’ve been following the virtual meltdown at the CBC over its new (i)copyright rules. For a great summary of the back and forth I strongly encourage you to check out Jesse Brown’s blog. In short the terms of use of the CBC seemed to suggest that no one was allowed to report/reprint excerpts of CBC pieces without the CBC express permission. This, as Cameron McMaster noted, actually runs counter to Canadian copyright law.

And yes, the CBC has been moving quickly and relatively transparently to address this matter and hopefully clearer rules – that are consistent with Canadian law – will emerge. That said, even as they try, the organization will still have a lot of work to do to persuade its readers it isn’t from Mars when it comes to understanding the internet. Consider this devastating line from the CBC’s spokeperson in response to the outcry.

You’ll also still be able to post links to CBC.ca content on blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter or other online media at no charge and will continue to offer free RSS stories for websites (found here).

Really? I’m still allowed to link to the CBC? How is this even under discussion? Who charges people to link to their site? How is that even possible?

Well, if you think that that is weird, it gets weirder. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find what what appears to have so far gone unnoticed in the current debate over the CBC’s bizarre terms of use. On the CBC’s Reuse and Permissions FAQ page the second question and answer reads as follows:

Can we link to your site?
We encourage people to link to us. However, we ask that you read our Terms of Use, which outline the conditions by which external sites may link to ours.

So what are the CBC’s terms of use to linking to their site? Well this is when the Lawyers really take over:

While CBC/Radio Canada encourages links to the Web site, it does not wish to be linked to or from any third-party web site which (i) contains, posts or transmits any unlawful, threatening, abusive, libellous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane or indecent information of any kind, including, without limitation, any content constituting or encouraging conduct that would constitute a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability or otherwise violate any local, state, provincial, national or international law, regulation which may be damaging or detrimental to the activities, operations, credibility or integrity of CBC/Radio Canada or which contains, posts or transmits any material or information of any kind which promotes racism, bigotry, hatred or physical harm of any kind against any group or individual, could be harmful to minors, harasses or advocates harassment of another person, provides material that exploits people under the age of 18 in a sexual or violent manner, provides instructional information about illegal activities, including, without limitation, the making or buying of illegal weapons; or (ii) contains, posts or transmits any information, software or other material which violates or infringes upon the rights of others, including material which is an invasion of privacy or publicity rights, or which is protected by copyright, trademark or other proprietary rights. CBC/Radio Canada reserves the right to prohibit or refuse to accept any link to the Web site, including, without limitation, any link which contains or makes available any content or information of the foregoing nature, at any time. You agree to remove any link you may have to the Web site upon the request of CBC/Radio Canada.

This sounds all legal and proper. And hey, I don’t want bigots or child molesters linking to my site either. But that doesn’t mean I can legally prevent them.

The CBC’s terms of use uses language that suggests they have the right to prevent you, or anyone from linking to their website. But from a practical, business strategy and legal perspective it is completely baffling.

In my mind, this is akin to the CBC claiming that it can prevent you from telling people their address or giving them directions to their buildings. Or, the CBC is claiming dominion over every website in the world and that they may dictate whether or not it can link to their site.

I have my suspicions that there is nothing in Canadian law to support the CBC’s position. If anyone knows of a law or decision that would support the CBC’s terms of use please do send me a note or comment below.

Otherwise, I hope the CBC will also edit this part of its Terms of Use and its Reuse and Permissions FAQ page. We need the organization to be in the 21st century.

The Internet as Surveillance Tool

There is a deliciously ironic, pathetically sad and deeply frightening story coming out of France this week.

On January 1st France’s new (and controversial law) Haute Autorité pour la Diffusion des Œuvres et la Protection des Droits sur Internet otherwise known by its abbreviation – Hadopi – came into effect. The law makes it illegal to download copyright protected works and uses a “three-strikes” system of enforcement. The first two times an individual illegally downloads copyrighted content (knowingly or unknowingly) they receive a warning. Upon the third infraction the entire household has its internet access permanently cut off and is added to a blacklist. To restore internet access the households’ computers must be outfitted with special monitoring software which tracks everything the computer does and every website it visits.

Over at FontFeed, Yves Peters chronicles how the French Agency designated with enforcing the legislation, also named Hadopi, illegally used a copyrighted font, without the permission of its owner, in their logo design. Worse, once caught the organization tried to cover up this fact by lying to the public. I can imagine that fonts and internet law are probably not your thing, but the story really is worth reading (and is beautifully told).

But as sad, funny and ironic as the story is, it is deeply scary. Hadopi, which is intended to prevent the illegal downloading of copyrighted materials, couldn’t even launch without (innocently or not) breaking the law. They however, are above the law. There will be no repercussions for the organization and no threat that its internet access will be cut off.

The story for French internet users will, however, be quite different. Over the next few months I wouldn’t be surprised if tens, or even hundreds of thousands of French citizens (or their children, or someone else in their home) inadvertently download copyrighted material illegally and, in order to continue to have access to the internet, will be forced to acquiesce to allowing the French Government to monitor everything they do on their computer. In short, Hadopi will functionally become a system of mass surveillance – a tool to enable the French government to monitor the online activities of more and more of its citizens. Indeed, it is conceivable that after a few years a significant number and possibly even a majority of French computers could be monitored. Forget Google. In France, the government is the Big Brother you need to worry about.

Internet users in other countries should also be concerned. “Three Strikes” provisions likes those adopted by France have allegedly been discussed during the negotiations of ACTA, an international anti-counterfeiting treaty that is being secretly negotiated between a number of developed countries.

Suddenly copyright becomes a vehicle to justify the governments right to know everything you do online. To ensure some of your online activities don’t violate copyright online, all online activities will need to be monitored. France, and possibly your country soon too, will thus transform the internet, the greatest single vehicle for free thought and expression, into a giant wiretap.

(Oh, and just in case you thought the French already didn’t understand the internet, it gets worse. Read this story from the economist. How one country can be so backward is hard to imagine).

The 21st Century Bookclub

For the past six months I’ve been engaged in a fantastic experiment.  6 months ago my friend David Humphrey emailed three friends whose blogs he enjoyed. Each of us (Myself, Humphrey, Mike Hoye and Luke Hill really only knew Humphrey and were essentially strangers to one another. Humphrey proposed we each read each others blogs for 3-4 months and then meet for dinner in Toronto when I was next in town.

I immediately became a fan of the experiment because it highlighted how the internet is reshaping culture. Admittedly, people have been sharing and talking about their writing for decades and centuries, but this activity was often reserved for “writers” or, perhaps, aspiring writers. By greatly reducing the costs of sharing and giving anyone a potential audience blogging has changed everything. Suddenly a group of strangers who only a decade ago might have collectively read something that someone else had written (most likely a book) are instead reading each others creations. It is just a further step (or more of a leap) forward in the democratization of culture and creativity.

In addition however, it was also just purely rewarding. I got to know a couple of guys in a way that was surprisingly personal. Better still, I developed a blogging peer group. I don’t actually know that many people who regularly blog and so having a group who has read what I write and of whom I could ask questions, advice and critiques of my writing was invaluable. More interesting is the ways of I’ve come to admire (and envy) their different styles and approaches: Luke is so unconstrained by form willing to write pieces that are short or long; Humphrey’s blog is so personal that you really feel like you get to know him; and Mike’s blog is just plain fun – with rants that leave you laughing.

If you blog, or even if you write (at which point I think you should blog as well) I can’t encourage you enough to create a 21st century book club (or should we just call it a blog club). You’ll find you will become a better blogger, a better writer and, I think, will make a few new friends.

Here are some fun posts from the others blogs I’d recommend:

Dear Former Homeowners Redux Redux Redux Redux Redux – pure fun for anyone who has owned a home (or note)

A Note to Some Friends – an important rant on the state of community over at Firefox

Fun Facts about the Amazon Kindle – #Canada #Fail

New Media and the Public Sphere – yes. it is that simple.

A Room of One’s Own – no reason, I just liked it.

The Web vs. Canada – funny (and sad) cause it is true.

Defining Open Data – cause it’s important.

Three guys with three different styles. How I love free culture.

Eaves.ca Blogging Moment #1 (2009 Edition): Open Data Comes to Vancouver

Back in 2007 I published a list of top ten blogging moments – times I felt blogging resulted in something fun or interesting. I got numerous notes from friends who found it fun to read (though some were not fans) so I’m giving it another go. Even without these moments it has been rewarding, but it is nice to reflect on them to understand why spending so many hours, often late at night, trying to post 4 times a week can give you something back that no paycheck can offer. Moreover, this is a chance to celebrate some good fortune and link to people who’ve made this project a little more fun. So here we go…

Eaves.ca Blogging Moment #1 (2009 Edition): Open Data Comes to Vancouver

On May 14th I blogged about the tabling of Vancouver’s Open Data motion to city council. After thousands of tweets, dozens of international online articles and blog posts, some national press and eventually some local press, the City of Vancouver passes the motion.

This was a significant moment for myself and people like Tim Wilson, Andrea Reimer and several people in the Mayor’s Office who worked hard to craft the motion and make it reality. The first motion of its type in Canada I believe it helped put open data on the agenda in policy circles across the country. Still more importantly, the work of the city is providing advocates with models – around legal issues, licensing and community engagement – that will allow them to move up the learning curve faster.

All this is also a result of the amazing work by city staff on this project. The fact that the city followed up and launched an open data portal less than 3 months later – becoming the first major city in Canada to do so – speaks volumes. (Props also to smaller cities like Kamloops and Nanaimo that were already sharing data.)

Today, several cities are contemplating creating similar portals and passing similar motions (I spoke at the launch of Toronto’s open portal, Ottawa, Calgary, & Edmonton are in various stages of exploring the possibility of doing something, over the border the City of Seattle invited me to present on the subject to their city councilors.). We are still in early days but I have hopes that this initiative can help drive a new era of government transparency & citizen engagement.

Eaves.ca Blogging Moment #2 (2009 Edition): The Three Laws of Open Data go Global

Back in 2007 I published a list of top ten blogging moments – times I felt blogging resulted in something fun or interesting. I got numerous notes from friends who found it fun to read (though some were not fans) so I’m giving it another go. Even without these moments it has been rewarding, but it is nice to reflect on them to understand why spending so many hours, often late at night, trying to post 4 times a week can give you something back that no paycheck can offer. Moreover, this is a chance to celebrate some good fortune and link to people who’ve made this project a little more fun. So here we go…

Eaves.ca Blogging Moment #2 (2009 Edition): The Three Laws of Open Data go Global

In preparation for a panel presentation to parliamentarians hosted by the Office of the Information Commissioner, I wrote this piece titled “The Three Laws of Open Data.” The piece gets a lot of web traffic and interest.

Better still, the previously mentioned Australian Government 2.0 Taskforce includes the three laws in their final report.

Also nice: Tim O’Reilly – tech guru, publisher and open government champion – mentions it during his GTEC keynote in Ottawa.

Best yet, after putting out the request on twitter several volunteers from around the world translate the 3 laws into seven languages! (German, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, Spanish and Catalan)

    Hurray again for the internet!