Netizenship

The Internet’s design relies on few mechanisms of central control. This allows new services to be introduced, and new destinations to come online, without any vetting or blocking by either private incumbents or public authorities. However, because we cannot easily measure the network and the character of the activity on it, we cannot easily assess and deal with threats from bad code without laborious cooperation among a limited group of security software vendors. Experiments need measurement, and the future of the generative Net may depend on a wider circle of users able to grasp the basics of what is going on within their machines and between their machines and the network. There is a need for new technologies and social structures that allow users to work creatively and collaboratively to understand what’s happening on their network — how it is impacting them, and how they are impacting it. This session introduces a cluster of technologies that seek to leverage the presence of millions of distributed PCs around the world to diagnose and improve PC health and network connectivity and empower users to understand and affect the future of the Internet.

Zittrain is the facilitator. We’re going to talk about projects. Yes, down-to-earth real stuff. He mentions the OnStar discussion from his book (chapter 5), which he said was particularly challenging to write because of the fears that emerge from the ‘perfect enforcement’ issues.

First mention of Psiphon, woohoo! (Note from Daithí – If you are in a position to contribute to this project, please do). And there are various similar projects. We can class them as part of a ‘netizenship’ agenda, and there is plenty of potential to build on this. Zittrain admits that the name Herdict is the worst name ever and appeals for help with this. A group of Berkman fellows, interns and friends are introduced.

They are trying to hold off the moment where the system is gamed/falsified/blocked. But this itself will be a mark of success, recognition that you’re worth going after.

Zittrain is showing a mockup of what the website (blank for now), will look like. There’s a colour-coded map of the world showing what blocking is taking place at that moment. Users can press a browser button when they are blocked and that sends an anonymous message saying what was blocked and (roughly) where. Builds on the idea of amIblockedornot idea. Interesting idea – to avoid the site being a repository for pornography etc, they will run the results (of blocked sites) through Google SafeSearch too.

Brilliant idea – how about using these ideas to get a comparative idea of “how good my network connection is” – this can relate to consumer rights issues and even network neutrality.

What if the site itself gets blocked?

We had a discussion (spurred by a post from me about different types of censorship) over how to deal with the problem that the site would be a list of porn sites (as mentioned above). Zittrain’s view is that this is an imperfect solution and that the goal is to make information available as much as possible. Rob Faris points out that the work on SafeSearch itself was done by Zittrain himself, but quite some years ago.

This version is about *web* blocking and not more general Internet issues, such as Skype. Swapping now to talk about PC health – this is something that installs and runs in system tray, looks for certain ‘signs’ (although exactly what has yet to be defined). Some very interesting stats will emerge, particular when crossreferenced with basic user data (experience, type of machine, etc). Again, this sounds extremely interesting and with all sorts of applications beyond the straightforward functions. Some further discussion on this too, and a late diversion into opening the concept of netizenship beyond these applications…

And that’s the last of the live blogging from the Berkman @ 10 Conference, The Future of the Internet. This evening the inaugural Berkman Award is being made, although I’ll be booing watching the Red Sox at Fenway Park instead. I hope that you enjoyed the updates, and thanks for the comments!

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