How Flat is the Internet, really?

Ethan_zuckerman_1_2[Image credit: Geoff Oliver Bugbee]

How flat is the Internet, really? This morning's panel, Global Voices bloggers Ethan Zuckerman, Amira Al Hussaini and Georgia Popplewell will address that question.

Ethan leads off with the suggestion that technology is not a communications cure-all. Showing a VAX, he says he learned to program on it. He could use the machine with USENET.

He describes a prank email from what appeared to be Soviet Premier Constantin Chernenko in 1984.

Many people, however, were excited that they could potentially connect to anyone.

How global is our information? It's possible to know what is on the mind of people by reading web logs. Global_voices_1_2

Showing a picture of the Earth from space taken at night. The planet is partly lit by electricity. And there in is a problem. Clearly there are large swaths of the world without power, and without power there aren't writers with access to the Web. A single fiber strand, he says, connects Africa to the Web.

He also shows a colored map. Two dozen countries block access altogether. Aside from physical and political barriers, there are also attention maps Ethan has been working on. Countries represented in blue are, simply put, not part of the discussion in the media.

A friend, Kwame Appiah, has a book out called Cosmopolitianism, which raises the question, what does it mean to be a global citizen? We're more connected than ever. Ethan, however, politely disagrees.

He talks about the problems and challenges of Nigeria. It has wealth. But most people associate Internet scams with the country; the scam most often encountered actually dates from the year 1588, used by Spanish prisoners. The scams have also spawned a cottage industry of spam baiting, with the ultimate goal of humiliating the scammer. The videos he shows are pretty funny, but there really are no winners.

He also describes the very real economy in a South Korean MPOG called "Lineage." Unfortunately, there is a war going on, with Koreans virtually killing Chinese merchants. Our behaviors, our prejudices, Ethan says, transfer.

Why is the important? Well there are very real world problems that require us to talk with each other. China and the United States must talk about global warming. If we want to leave Iraq without it being a disaster, we have to talk to Iran.

The good news is that there are people who want to build those bridges.

Ethan shows the blog of a Saudi man called Saudi Jeans. Turns out he's an ardent feminist, mostly because places where he might meet women are very limited. He argues on his blog for a woman's right to drive.

Ethan points to a U.S. Chinese blogger who translates Chinese blogs into English.

Rather than saying certain banned words, Chinese bloggers have become very creative with puns.

70 Million people of around the world talk using blogs. "You need a guide to these voices." With that, Ethan introduces Georgia Popplewell and Amira Al Hussaini.

Georgia talks about her experience getting trackbacks from Global Voices to her blog, which led to her becoming a volunteer author. She did that beginning in 2005. She is currently the managing editor for Globalvoicesonline.org.

She recounts the early history of Global Voices, which was founded in 2004 by Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon, Fellows at the Berman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.

There are two managing editors. The co-managing editor lives in New York. There are 20 regional language editors, two tech guys, one outreach director, one advocacy director, 100 plus volunteer authors and translators.

"Global Voices aggregates, curates and amplifies the global conversation online - shining a light on places and people other media often ignore," according to one slide.

The volunteers give content. Regional editors serve as a check on the credibility of bloggers. She explains that Global Voices has also undergone a transition from English-only to being published in many other languages.

The articles run the gamut, just like other blogs. Georgia demonstrates how to search Global Voices and to provide comments.

Running a bit short on time, Amira provides an overview of her work with Global Voices and offers her perspective as an Arab woman on what she sees and hears.

Wayne