Archives for July 2009

The Crowd as Herd?

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Russell Barnes | 15:13 UK time, Friday, 31 July 2009

Many thanks for all the thoughtful comments over the last weeks which are provoking much debate in the production office and will help enrich the series.

I was particularly drawn to TaiwanChallenges' point about Nicholas Taleb and the winner-takes-almost-all nature of the web. And wondered whether we should build this up into one of the big themes of the series.

It is compelling that the web, despite being so fluid, porous, open, an apparent free-for-all, is dominated in effect by a handful of monopoly brands. Let's face it, there's only one search engine that matters, one bookshop, one encyclopaedia, one micro-blogging portal (I don't even have to name these do I?) and, if current take-up numbers are to be believed and the trajectory continues, in a few years Facebook will be the social network with clout.

In part these brands rose to dominance because they formulated the right strategy at the right time to blaze a trail into - to borrow Taleb's phrasing - the web's unknown unknown commercial territory. Google 'got' how to monetise search before anyone else. Twitter created a whole new utility. But is that the whole story?

I'd argue there's another dimension to this. These big brands surely get to tipping point so quickly and so completely because they go viral - because users stampede en masse in a certain direction.
When I think about online crowds, I can't help imagining thousands of startled wildebeest twisting and turning away from lions on the veldt. I know the 'crowd' is in reality lots of fragmented individuals individually interacting with their machines. But aggregated they behave, it seems to me, like a frightened, faddish, conformist herd.

That's a problem no doubt for creative competition on the web. It may also be a problem for users - for us members of the herd. It begs the question whether people live life authentically on the web as they default with Google, Amazon, Wikipedia, Twitter and Facebook. It also makes me question whether the viral passing round of derivative home-spun sketches as 'internet gold' on YouTube aren't just a function of users going unthinkingly through the motions rather than tuning into the little boy in them quietly questioning the whereabouts of the emperors' clothes. And then you hear about Tweeters and Facebook members who force themselves to pass on banal details of their everyday lives to strangers only next to complain of 'status update anxiety' to shrinks. 

One of the great attributes of humans, surely, is their ability to separate themselves from the group and 'groupthink'. But the web doesn't encourage that... rather promotes the opposite.

OK, so this post may not be so relevant to readers here who are a savvy bunch, and no doubt seek out new forms of creative expression and trawl the web's niches each and every day. Right? But am I wrong about the big majority of users out there?

Is it a theme worth developing? Please give us feedback.

Revolution round-up - week three

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Dan Biddle Dan Biddle | 09:39 UK time, Friday, 31 July 2009

Each week the programme production teams run through the blog content and comments to see what is feeding into the programme's thinking, structure and content, and to review what questions the team are looking to ask our users. So far only programme one (power and the web) has a full production team; the following audio clip is a conversation between myself and director of programme one, Philip Smith, recorded after our briefing session, discussing the issues raised by recent blog activity and ideas he is looking to pursue.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

Philip Smith, director, programme onePhilip is looking for human and accessible stories coming out of the web and its tools and communities - particularly the different ways people edit Wikipedia:

  • Are you a deletionist or an inclusionist? We would be interested in your experiences, your methods and motivation
  • Do you have a visualisation of Wikipedia's hierarchy? Its structure and variety of users? We'd be interested to see it.
(Image: Philip Smith, Director, programme one)

Programme one (power and the web) - piracy

Aleks opened the debate on piracy and personal boundaries; asking, in the context of the web offering all manner of content - commercial and personal - for free, where each of us draws the line on 'sharing' and piracy.

Off the Digital Revolution blog, Blogger R4isstatic wrote an article on The Internet as Creative Tool during which they observe:

'one of the main objections to the trend of making things available online is that we lose the context of things, the author loses the power. I think that I disagree here - that's not a failing of the Web itself, it's a failing of our limited use of it. If we were to use the Web in the way I've talked about, then authorship would be another valid link to make - and one that should always be traversable - credit would actually be easier to give, and would also hopefully, importantly begin to encourage a true breaking down of the walls between 'producers' and 'consumers' - we would, and should be, enabling the audience to create entirely new things, using our things - that's still a valid thing to do, as long as the credit is given, and the links between what one person has originally made, and someone else has remixed, are made.'

In response I asked: Could piracy become a KPI in the semantic web? Certainly along the lines of Matt Mason's arguments regards piracy as being the sharp end of innovation and a sign to companies and content creators to adapt to their market call.

Which R4isstatic replied 'I like the idea of piracy being a KPI - because yes, that's (in some forms) exactly what it is - a measure of how interested people are in something, how 'desperate' they are to get their hands on it etc.'

Back on our blog, UK Music CEO Feargal Sharky offered a fair and measured view of the options facing content creators, ultimately defending copyright as remaining an effective and functional option for creative control / personal choice:

'Copyright allows this. It encourages creativity and offers the creator freedom of choice. (Want to sign to a music company? Strike a sponsorship deal with a brand? Give your music away for free? Copyright gives you the option...)'

Meanwhile, many commenting on the blog, including jayfurneaux, cite Creative Commons as being a solution in progress to issues of IP and copyright's failings in the context of the developing digital models.

In light of the owner-creator's plight ParkyDR wryly observes:
'I don't think creators should have absolute control over every single copy of their work, that's why Creative Commons Licenses are necessary. At the moment we've got the equivalent of a bunch of kids playing football and one saying it's my ball, so you've got to let me score all the goals or I'm taking my ball home.'

Programme three (privacy and economics)

While this week's blogging was ostensibly on the topic of piracy and Intellectual Property theft, but the debate swiftly moved away from that of piracy in the mainstream (online) sense (as Aleks' blog post was indeed more about misappropriation / reuse / altering of content (personal or commercial). This steered some people's thinking towards privacy and personal culpability for digital footprints and the stories they might tell about their owners - which reaches out to the themes of Programme Three (privacy and economics)

al_robertson notes in response
'...we still don't know what a fully mature (ie complete life spanning) web presence will look like, and we probably won't for another 50 or 60 years or so... Perhaps the lack of online privacy we're experiencing now will lead to development of more clearly defined lifelong open / friends only / family only areas of web presence for each of us?'

Englishfolkfan described concerns on this theme provided this example of a person's 'private' public online activities affecting their career : Facebook surfing while sick costs woman job - and also considered how this visibility online might provide unwitting windows to any agencies to follow your movements, habits and employment:
'A rather random thought about 'freelance' or 'self-employed' personages who lead more exotic lives online via, say, twitter - it would be quite easy for the Inland Revenue to track their work/play record if it were felt necessary.'

Elsewhere on the web:

On Twitter @greenblahblah offered an amusing 'the web is...' #thewebis where i meet others who also remember the exact number of calories in a Nutty bar

And of course, where would we be without another peerless picture of our production meetings?

Many thanks to all our visitors and those leaving comments, sharing wisdom and stories are particularly appreciated. As ever, if you have something to share with us, please leave a comment, a link.

Next week we begin discussions of programme two (the web and the nation state). Some fascinating ideas coming out of this topic, but we are very keen to take comment and direction from you on the subjects within.

It's a question of creator's choice

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Feargal Sharkey | 11:43 UK time, Thursday, 30 July 2009

(Feargal Sharkey found fame as lead singer in The Undertones and later as a solo artist, before successfully transferring to the business side of the industry - holding posts as A&R manager, record label MD, Member of the Radio Authority and Chair of the Live Music Forum. He is currently CEO of UK Music, the umbrella organisation that represents the collective interests of the UK's commercial music industry - from artists, musicians, songwriters and composers, to record labels, music managers, music publishers, collecting societies and studio producers. The following post is published with kind permission and represents Feargal's views; this does not necessarily reflect the views of the BBC or the Digital Revolution production.)

Let's all just come down to earth for a minute. And take a deep breath.

As with all debates tagged 'digital' 'music' and 'piracy', this one needs a bit of context.

For me, the key issues are not copyright versus creative commons or 'corporate oligarchies' versus the 'mash-up masses'.

These are artificial battle lines, usually drawn by digital ideologues. It's black or it's white. Or, in the immortal words of George W Bush: 'You're either with us, or against us.'

Ideologues tend to shoehorn exceptions into rules. Which is fantastic for the purpose of theorising, debate and the general production of hot air, but of less practical value back here on Planet Earth where things tend to be a bit more complex. As Aleks rightly notes, the fly in the ointment for digital utopians occurs when human beings enter the equation.

For me, the burning issue - and this is equally relevant to newspapers, games, TV, film makers, authors and software manufacturers as it is to music - is how creative individuals can commercially reconcile their activities both online and offline.

Both are vital. Most artists need to sell CDs and downloads, they need to play live, their music needs to be distributed to a huge variety of digital stores, they need a web presence, they need to be played on radio and they need to be marketed to 'traditional' media. And on and on.

They also need time and space to create.  

This is a balancing act.

Ideally, the emerging digital market can complement existing incomes, which in a lot of cases are meagre enough, and not completely displace them. As seen with the likes of Spotify and We7, the music business is working with tech companies to develop sustainable music 'businesses' (as opposed to unsustainable music 'services') that incentivise creator and fan alike, as well as everybody in between. Like the other IP-based businesses above, music must continually evolve and respond to customer demand.

Of course, some artists are doing pretty well in reconciling online and offline activities - witness the growing list of 'heritage' acts reconnecting on comeback tours with their old fanbase - but it's an awful lot of balls to keep juggling, particularly for an emerging artist.

Creativity is not confined to an online vacuum. Most songwriters, composers, artists and musicians don't make distinctions as to where their creative labours will be heard and enjoyed. They don't care if it's on download or vinyl, via terrestrial radio or online stream. They simply create. (Although most like to get paid and have a keen interest in how their music is presented.)

Copyright allows this. It encourages creativity and offers the creator freedom of choice. (Want to sign to a music company? Strike a sponsorship deal with a brand? Give your music away for free? Copyright gives you the option...)

It also offers the creator a degree of moral rights as to how their work is used.

How this is exercised is very much down to the individual.

Working on the proviso that one person's meat is another's poison, each individual artist will have their own personal take as to what is 'permissible'.

Many will encourage fans to post clips to social network sites or give away the odd track in exchange for an email address (and let's face it, 'unsigned' artists have always given their work away for 'free', usually in the form of a demo). However, a line will probably be drawn when it comes to an unlicensed Russian website selling their work or if it's appropriated by a political group whose views they fundamentally disagree with.

This is a 'horses for courses' scenario. But, for me, the creator should always retain the opportunity to decide.

One final thought, in getting hung up on side issues, we potentially miss the elephant in the room: quality. The potential of digital distribution is great, but fundamentally our business is still focussed on the pursuit of great music, great songs, great entertainment and great art.

Whether online or offline, this is what draws a crowd.

If we lose sight of that, we lose everything.

The Pirate's Dilemma

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Matt Mason | 10:40 UK time, Tuesday, 28 July 2009

(Matt Mason began his career as a pirate radio and club DJ in London. He is now a journalist and author voted Business Week's 'Best Pirate' 2008, blogging at The following post is published with kind permission and represents Matt's views; this does not necessarily reflect the views of the BBC or the Digital Revolution production.)

Light has long confused scientists by existing as particles and waves at the same time. These days it seems information is confusing us in the same way, especially those of us who own or control a great deal of it. We no longer understand how to either observe or use it.

When we have create a new piece of information or a new idea, there are two opposing forces at work. At the same time as we are thinking "how can I get this out there?" we're also asking ourselves "how can I benefit from/monetise this?" We want to spread ideas as information, but capitalise on them as intellectual property.
The first thing we need to understand is that the decision as to how we share "our" information isn't always "ours" to make alone. If a drug company decides it won't share malaria and anti-retroviral AIDS drugs with a developing nation for a price the suffering citizens of that country can afford, that country may decide to ignore patent protections and manufacture pirate copies of the drugs anyway in order to save lives. They may be violating patent laws by doing so, but if it's compared to letting thousands of people die needlessly, it's clearly the lesser of two evils. If an industry dependent on physical information, distribution bottlenecks and artificial scarcity decides to ignore more efficient ways of distributing the information it considers its property, pirates will step into the breach and highlight the fact that there is a better way for us to do things.

Piracy is the sharp end of innovation, innovation by any means necessary. Large oligopolies control most of our industries and governments. Six companies control most of what we see and hear. According to The World Bank's 2007 figures, roughly two-thirds the world's 150 largest economies aren't nations, but corporations. We all know the system doesn't work quite the way it's supposed to, yet continue to think of this inefficient system we have as 'the free market'. Pirates upend inefficient systems, they take order and create short-term chaos, but often the long-term result of piracy on a large scale is a better system - a more efficient way of doing things. Pirates created many of our established orders out of chaos, and now that these industries are becoming inefficient in the face of new technologies, chaos is being created once again.

From CEOs to struggling artists, in everything from health care to entertainment to education, many of us are being challenged by the problem of others sharing and using our intellectual property without permission. This challenge requires a change of attitude, because sometimes piracy isn't the problem, it's the solution. You see, piracy is really a market signal - an early warning system, a warning that all too often goes ignored by established industries. Whether we consider ourselves pirates or professionals, we're all competing in the same space.

When pirates enter our market spaces, we have two choices: We can throw lawsuits at them and hope they go away. Sometimes this is the best thing to do. But what if those pirates are adding value to society in some way? If these pirates are really doing something useful, people support them, and the strong arm of the law won't work. The pirates will keep coming back and multiplying no matter how many people are sued. And the truth is, if lawsuits become a core component of your business model, then you no longer have a business model.

Because, in these cases, what pirates are actually doing is highlighting a better way for us to do things; they find gaps outside the market, and better ways for society to operate. In these situations the only way to fight piracy is legitimise and legalise new innovations by competing with pirates in the marketplace. Once the new market space is legitimised, more opportunities are created for everyone. Pirates present us with a choice. We can either fight them in the courts, or match them play for play in the marketplace. To compete or not to compete, that is the question; that is the pirate's dilemma.

Piracy - what's your line?

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Aleks Krotoski | 09:50 UK time, Monday, 27 July 2009

A few weeks ago, Sir Tim Berners-Lee made the case for free data access for all, promoting the libertarian ideals of the early Web pioneers. As I remarked in my response, this is a wonderful idea, but it's unrealistic: technologically, a free and open platform could generate a knowledge-sharing revolution reminiscent of the printing press, the telegraph and the television; socially, once you add the fallible human beings into the mix, such phenomenal freedom would be co-opted and corrupted, twisted by the various -isms that we project into virtuality. And unfortunately, this is where issues of data control gets messy and a little bit personal.

The digital utopian vision of a post-ownership world works when you think in binary: documents connecting documents, code connecting code. But the argument starts to dissolve when you introduce the human factor; for example, the creative content that's on the Web that someone exploits for his or her economic gain. Every time a music bigwig cracks down on a file-sharing single mother in Minnesota, or a creative college kid gets a threatening letter from a Big Corporate, we're reminded that someone out there has control of these assets, and they're not interested in progressing our creative ideals, generating new opportunities or, heck, working towards the common good. Instead, they're all about their bottom line. And once these people get involved, this vast treasure trove of possibility brought on by the connections between documents and code is shut down faster than you can say, "show me the money."

It's around big, fiery headlines that we, the mash-up masses, gather and shake fists. Together, we exploit the web's plethora rabbit holes and back doors to challenge their capitalist rules, re-instating our rights to share wares. Heck yeah.

But hold on a sec. Now that mashable content is so freely available and transmutable in the hands and the imaginations of consumer/creators, it is no longer the resources of corporate entities that are used for the loving, spiteful, inspired, hateful, infamous and hilarious mash-ups, virals, homages and new attractions.

Whether you get the joke and appreciate the craft or not, there's no denying that there is a tacit expectation that content uploaded to the Web is fair game. Can we assume that everyone knows what they're in for when they put themselves out there?

I think no. The Facebook masses are not au fait with the intricacies of Creative Commons and other attributions. They have lost the faith in copyright and they won't see ownership, unless it hits their own fan.

So, here's a question (and remember please that I'm not asking if you would steal a handbag, or a car, or a television. This is not an RIAA-style content-ownership smackdown): what of yours, if appropriated for a mash-up, if ricocheted around the Web, if co-opted without your permission and transposed into something you didn't agree with, would shake your beliefs in data freedom?

After all, the digital utopian vision is also challenged every time a blogger has had some of his or her content cut and pasted onto another site without permission or attribution, an amateur snapper has had a photo used in an advertisement without knowledge or recompense or, heck, in my case, a picture that was (badly) photoshopped into a porn pic (no, you're not going to get a link). In each of these cases - whether it's words, images, or our faces - part of us comes to represent something that doesn't fit with who we feel we are or who we want to be.

I am a control freak, I admit this. But my online identity slipped out of my hands a decade ago. The first time someone other than myself published something about me on the Web, my autonomy disappeared. I've struggled with it, but clearly not enough to stop. Instead, I continue to publish content online in the hope that I can trust those people who have tuned in to my lifestream not to mess with it. But there are lines that can be crossed that will ruin my vision of a shared utopia. What are yours?

revolution round-up: week two

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Dan Biddle Dan Biddle | 15:40 UK time, Friday, 24 July 2009

The weekly round up of comment, conversation and debate returns to find the blog discussion gathering steam, and Wikipedia adding fuel to the engines...

General matters of note:

A comment from vanboy74 is well worth reading as he offers comment on all four programme topics.

Required reading, he offers as suggestion for 'power on the web' - consumer power - with some notable examples. We are following up his offer for more stories to this effect. 

NB: if anybody else can share instances of the web's giving power to the consumer (eg the perceived success of the 'Stop the Great HSBC Graduate Rip-Off!!!' facebook group) they would be much appreciated.

Re The web and the nation state he discusses Germany's politicians' failure to comprehend the web in anything other than media panic terms, including 'a new, absolutely ineffective law concerning child pornography has evoked something like a war of generations'.

Likewise, programme three (privacy and economics), as a human resources manager, his views regards employees online profiles and footprints are fascinating 'I am curious whether if in a few years people can still afford not to have a clear online identity...'

While we received no comments on the post regards our call for Asian web stories / sites; our followers on Twitter delivered a couple of interesting links: Blogging's importance in Nepal from @imascientist and another re: Cyworld and Daum sites in Korea (from @Hemmysphere).

Is Twitter a more appropriate medium for asking questions like that?

We were also recommended to visit www.a24media in Nairobi by Jonathan Marks, whose comment also highlights the issue of the web's memory, and the assumption that content is now eternal being unfounded. While elsewhere on the blog winston84smith commented that the retention of data (specifically in the context of education and pupils' learning data): 

'What about Data Retention? How does implementation of the EU Data Retention Directive impact on students' privacy in their online learning activities? How much have the risks to students' privacy been exacerbated by the advent of Web 2.0 participative technologies and their implementation within Education?'

Comments relevant to programme one (power on the web)

This week's hot topic was Wikipedia. Aleks' blog post considering the hierarchies of power within the 'open' knowledge resource sparking off a debate from users and a critical blog post from Wikipedia's founder Jimmy Wales in reply.

An interesting consequence of Aleks post was to be invited to join Wikimedia UK.

From the comments that ensued, we received an example of Wikipedia used in citation, though that might not 100% count being an academic paper regarding Wikipedia and trust.

And comment from cyberissues included this observation:
'The working Group on Internet Governance in 2005 defined three layers of governance: society, business and government. In terms of wikipedia, this translates to: users, wikipedia (or ISPs) and government. Because of the restrictions imposed by these layers - including between users - the utopian ideal of wikipedia being a free for all, collaborative resource, is far from true.'

The trouble with blogs continued to spark debate and comment. Many people feel the hype is undeserved; others state that to declare blogs moribund is ridiculous; while Auqakuh1123 offered the reason blogs are popular (and indeed therefore their failing) lies with the ability to create an environment you control for your own opinion to attract like opinions and deflect contrary views you might otherwise have to face on an open web forum.

Programme three (privacy and economics)

Elsewhere on the web

I took this photograph of our poorly lit (though thoroughly illuminating) production meeting on Monday (from the right: Dan Gluckman's elbow, Russell Barnes, Tilly Cowan and Cathy Edwards):

Which received an amusing tweet from @englishfolkfan 'Locked in the gloomy room the Prodution Team scribbled on paper' - hahahaha Digital Revolution not in evidence in that pic ;o)'

The picture also inspired suggestions for the programme format from @paulmorriss
'An idea for you - why not make the programme like the web - full of diversions and side-trips - like ctrl-clicking to open a new browser window and then going back to where you where?
Also - why not have the responses to #thewebis on twitter scrolling along the bottom of the screen through the whole thing?

And reply from @splink 'Sounds to me like a Youtube video with links. Link out a specific points relating to the current topic and link back at the end of the sidelined footage.'

Ideas which are not a million miles away from something we're hoping to offer! We're already making plans for an interactive version of the documentary to launch online around the time that the series is broadcast on BBC Two. These will feature plenty of diversions and side trips - including the arguments, ideas and content you're suggesting, which doesn't make it into the final programmes.

And that's all the news that's fit to blog this week. We'll be presenting this info to Philip and Tilly (Director and Assistant Producer programme one) and will feedback their responses to the blog.

As ever, if there are topics raised here that you have stories or greater details of that would improve our data, research and the programme, please leave comments below.

Wikipedia - a flawed and incomplete testament to the essential fallibility of human nature

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Bill Thompson Bill Thompson | 15:33 UK time, Thursday, 23 July 2009

(Bill Thompson is a well-known technology critic and commentator on digital culture for BBC World Service's Digital Planet. A pioneer of new media in the UK, Bill was Internet ambassador for PIPEX in the early 1990s and founded The Guardian's New Media Lab in 1995, setting up and editing the first Guardian website.  The following post is published with kind permission and represents Bill's views; this does not necessarily reflect the views of the BBC or the Digital Revolution production.)

We expect too much from our political leaders, our television idols, our gods and, of course, our crowdsourced compendia of all human knowledge. Wikipedia, like every book ever written, every building ever erected and every work of art ever created is a flawed and incomplete testament to the essential fallibility of human nature.

Those who created it cannot agree on a consistent history, as founders and co-founders squabble over who did what, while those who devote their time to curating the millions of articles fight in private and in public and occasionally fall victims to various deadly sins, taking too much pride in their positions of responsibility or using Wikipedia to express their wrath.
They can't even write a decent article on the Seven Deadly Sins (see - which needs 'additional citations for verification').

In some respects Wikipedia is not even a wiki, since many pages are protected from 'vandalism' and so cannot be edited by ordinary users, and some user changes are not reflected on the site until they have been approved by an editor.

But Wikipedia is flawed in the way Ely Cathedral is flawed, imperfect in the way a person you love is imperfect, and filled with conflict and disagreement in the way a good conference or an effective parliament is filled with argument.

To point this out is not to dismiss its usefulness or deny its value, even if those most closely involved occasionally act as if anything less than complete subordination to the Wikipedia world view is an act of betrayal.
We should always be trying to build a better online reference than Wikipedia, even if we will always end up building something less than perfect, but it is the least worst user-generated reference world we have, and I'm grateful for it.

What was my goal when I came up with the idea of creating a free encyclopedia for everyone?

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Jimmy Wales | 09:50 UK time, Wednesday, 22 July 2009

(Jimmy "Jimbo" Wales, is an American Internet entrepreneur best known for founding, as well as other wiki-related organizations, including the charitable organization Wikimedia Foundation, and the for-profit company Wikia, Inc. The following post is published with kind permission and represents Jimmy's views; this does not necessarily reflect the views of the BBC or the Digital Revolution production.)

Aleks Krotoski repeats many of the popular myths about my goals for Wikipedia.  I am transparent, she says, in my goal to "challenge the academic Ivory Tower."  Wikipedia, she says, is "an extraordinary experiment in crowdsourcing an objective truth from the wisdom of crowds". But unfortunately, the story goes, and as Kevin Kelley has written, Wikipedia has drifted over time from "digital utopia" to something "more structured, more elitist, a little more bourgeoisie."

This is a common pattern - to posit that yes, in the early days, Wikipedia was an anarchist dream, a hippie commune, a little bit of socialism or communism that actually worked - but over time, it had to grow up, to institute controls. Some may actually sigh in relief: 
see, we always knew the old ways were best.

Unfortunately this rough storyline is not particularly in line with the facts.

To illustrate how, it is only necessary to recount the history - and media reaction - of our "protection" features which allow the community to lock down articles temporarily in case of a problem. In the old days, we could only "fully protect" an article - meaning that no one, other than administrators, could edit that entry for the duration of the protection.

This tightly controlled, top down system led to a number of problems that we didn't like. So we developed a new tool, semi-protection, that allowed us to remain more open. Now, when an article is semi- protected, it can be edited by anyone who has had an account for a certain amount of time, not just administrators.

When we introduced semi-protection, the reaction in the media was predictable - and wrong. Wikipedia, it was reported, was in the process of closing off editing. The storyline was just too tempting: open democratic participation is genuinely impossible, see, and so every change has to be interpreted under a filter of becoming more structured and more elitist.

Soon we are introducing into English Wikipedia a new feature ("flagged
revisions") which will allow us, I hope, to open the front page of Wikipedia to open public editing for the first time in years. This radical new opening up of Wikipedia is certain to be interpreted as Wikipedia finally becoming more controlled, more elitist, more top- down. The story line is just too tempting.

But it simply isn't that simple.

In fact, I am quite elitist (in the relevant sense), and always have been. The core of the community is as well. We are firmly convinced - and have the daily evidence to prove it - that some people simply have no business writing an encylopedia. Our openness is not a function of believing in some "hippie" or "communist" ideal of absolute egalitarianism. Rather, it is simply a practical reflection of the fact that open dialogue and debate, undertaken in a thoughtful and respectful environment, is the best way to get at the truth.

I don't know of anyone serious who disagrees - particularly in the Ivory Tower.

Jimmy Wales

Liberty, wikipedia and a voice for all

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Aleks Krotoski | 12:29 UK time, Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The web is a levelling ground, founded on libertarian ideals of openness, freedom and a democratisation of information and knowledge. This has been replicated again and again, throughout the web's history, in projects like the WELL, the WikiWikiWeb and, now, Wikipedia.
Wikipedia is considered the modern poster child of the libertarian ideal. Jimmy Wales, founder of the site, is completely transparent about his objective: to challenge the academic Ivory Tower with his free and open technological knowledge solution. Yes, it is an empowering force: consumers re-appropriate knowledge by creating their own versions of reality through an extraordinary experiment in crowdsourcing an objective truth from the wisdom of the crowd.
But, as Kevin Kelly recently wrote in Wired, the pathway this digital utopia has actually taken has led it towards something a little more structured, a little more elitist, a little more bourgeoisie. The content you browse on its 2,942,000+ pages has been vetted by a group of people who have become subject specialists, and who decide what to include and what to remove. These people may not have been given any special roles by Wikipedia Central, but they have taken it upon themselves to own certain portions of data content, making it difficult for newcomers to put their personal spins on the content in the online encyclopedia. In other words, the Wikipedia phenomenon replicates the existing structures of power and control of information thanks to the spontaneously generated new gatekeepers who have grown out of that most important of web assets, the community. Kelly describes this phenomenon nicely:

'An examination of the governing kernel of, say, Wikipedia, Linux or OpenOffice shows that these efforts are further from the collectivist ideal than appears from the outside. Although millions of writers contribute to Wikipedia, a smaller number of editors (around 1,500) are responsible for the majority of the editing. Ditto for collectives that write code. A vast army of contributors is managed by a smaller group of co-ordinators. Mitch Kapor, founding chair of the Mozilla open-source code factory, observed, "Inside every working anarchy, there's an old-boy network.'

So who are these people? Who knows? But they certainly don't (yet) have credentials that are acceptable for the Ivory Tower: University departments generally have policies that they won't accept references from Wikipedia in their students' submissions. I don't necessarily agree with these edicts, but they are in place. And you'd never find Wikipedia cited in peer-reviewed articles published by members of the academy. This is likely because there's a belief in academic circles that knowledge is a precious and powerful commodity that should be treated with respect, and only those trained in upholding its sanctity should have the keys to the castle. This is the elitism that Wales has sought to rip apart; with the evolution of a non-specialist cohort that has more control over the content, the Wikipedia experiment has achieved his goal, kind of.

Personally, I use Wikipedia in my academic life as a starting point, a world wide cheat sheet, getting top-line information that provides the first stop down the rabbit hole of a complex topic. This is enough for most people, but peel back the layers, and what is presented is not an objective truth (if there indeed can ever be one) because information is not neutral, it is not genderless, it is not agnostic. Like the Web itself, the content on Wikipedia is generated - explicitly or accidentally - from a particular point of view.

That's why the hierarchies that have emerged from the community that has developed out of Wikipedia are pretty important. Ultimately, the world of Wikipedia is not flat, but that doesn't make it any less powerful. It just means we have to be aware that its crowd-wisdom will not produce the objective truth, but something more close to the reflection of the people who control it, however right or wrong they may be.

International perspectives and stories required

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Dan Biddle Dan Biddle | 16:44 UK time, Monday, 20 July 2009

Digital Revolution wants to reflect stories of the web that you think are important from across the world.

Following on from Erik Hersman's guest blog post describing the international blogging experience in Africa, we'd like to find some similar stories from Asia, for example Ohmynews International in South Korea; what stories can you tell us about human innovation and endeavour on the web in Korea, China and India?

Please provide as much information as possible, links to sites or articles if appropriate.

All suggestions greatly appreciated as comments to the blog.


revolution round-up: week one

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Dan Biddle Dan Biddle | 08:59 UK time, Monday, 20 July 2009

Scant ten days since the Web at 20 launch event and we're already enjoying a fantastic response from people: sharing stories; guiding us towards areas of potential interest (more below); and giving opinion on the Digital Revolution project itself.

As part of our process, we'll be presenting these round-ups of content from across the web, as much for the benefit of our production teams as for our users. These will be quick links from the stories and developments on the blog and on the wider web to synopsise Digital Revolution activity for the week, broken down by programme / thematic relevance.

The form may well evolve, but for now, here's the week's news and activity from the blog and beyond, broken down by topics as they relate to the themes (as they currently stand) in our four programmes.
Programme 1 (power on the web)

QUESTION: Are we looking for quirky, historical tales from the early days? e.g. The list of players in early web community conflicts and developments outlined by Trurl2009 - an interesting window into the history and characters of early forums such as Joel Furr, James Parry and Serdar Argic (early malicious spam). Potentially interesting insights into early online community power struggles, trolls, flamewars and spam, which seques to later use comments...

IDEA: Blogging's popularity stems from a fear of diversity and personal control. Their predecessors - online forums - were too open to challenging opinion, while blogs give (perhaps insular) control to an individual to create a mini-forum - intellectual, self-publishing comfort zones.
IDEA: The web is not democratic - it's a brutal free market with no regulator; referencing Nicholas Taleb's Black Swan - feedback loops on the web mean that a tiny difference in popularity is amplified, which leads to a short fat tail, not a long one (via TaiwanChallenges, who introduces a range of thought-provoking suggestions in their comment to follow up). Points also well made by Charles Arthur on blogging's long tail dying.

Sounds interesting, but we need some examples of these smaller blogs suffering in this way. Are there bloggers reading this who have directly felt this 'squeezing out' by larger, blogging behemoths? Please contact us if so.

From our guest bloggers, we have a number of stories to consider regarding the present state of blogs and their possible futures:

STORY: Erik Hersmann describes how web platforms in Kenya enable citizen journalism and bloggers to depict and expose events happening on the ground that otherwise would not have been told through traditional media.

IDEA: From this can we consider that citizen journalism is more important in developing countries than in 'developed'? Is this because established media and communications infrastructures are less reliable in these countries?

Does this return to Bill Thompson's comment on the web's great achievement: that while its connectivity has not stopped people from wanting to kill each other, it has made it more difficult to get away with it.
Programme 2 (the web and the nation state)

Very inspiring story that resonates with Tim Berners-Lee's statement that the web should be a human right, like clean water. (Not really about the web though!) But similar inspirational stories that show how web access transformed people's lives would be fantastic. 

Also - an interesting challenge - can the web really transform the world? A debate begun by SheffTim who wondered Could it help provide those one billion people with safe, clean drinking water and save the lives of millions of children? 

To which, yours truly weighed in with some sanguine thoughts of the web's power to crowdsource solutions - though no ideas for it producing clean water...!
Programme 3 (privacy and economics)
Sounds plausible - are there any good examples of people who this has happened to?

Interesting idea, but what's the evidence for this? We need examples and more information about this, that will support or refute the concerns expressed on the blog:

'The Internet, at its incarnation, was viewed as a revolutionising and liberating technology. In its current state, Internet-based ICT / eLearning is, I argue, a deeply disabling agent which violates students' rights of privacy, 'chills' students' free speech and severely limits students' free access to information. Is eLearning - in a mashup of Freire's famous phrase - the technology of the oppressed?' (excerpt from comment by winston84smith)

Programme 4 (the web is changing us)
IDEA: The web is becoming more visual. That will make life easier for some - such as the hearing impared (see BSL sites) or non-English speaking users of English-based sites - as it transcends written language barriers, but make accessibility harder for others:
IDEA: The networked web2.0 human being is a different type of human being - different ways of interacting with the world lead to different ways of seeing the world
Ref: Clay Shirky makes the point that time spent online replaces time spent watching TV
IDEA: Our behaviour is driven by how easy something is to do. This means Twitter over blogs;buying DVDs over BiTTorrent.


I've given a briefing of the content of this post to the programme one team and I'll feed back further information and ideas from the director Philip Smith as it arrives, and follow up the themes and questions raised here (and beyond).

We'll also be uploading some pages to the site later this week, to outline in a bit more detail, the themes of the four programmes listed in this post .

As ever, if there are topics raised here that you have stories or greater details of that would improve our data, research and the programme, please leave comments below.

Voices on the rise: raw and unfiltered blogging still lives

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Erik Hersman | 11:10 UK time, Friday, 17 July 2009

(Erik Hersman is a web technology professional; he is creator of Ushahidi, AfriGadget; Erik blogs at and may be found as @WhiteAfrican on Twitter. The following post is published with kind permission and represents Erik's views; this does not necessarily reflect the views of the BBC or the Digital Revolution production.)

Blogging evolves, just like any other citizen-based communication channel. Our definitions change on what it is, the tools themselves and how it is perceived within our own culture.  Where once we thought of blogs as being the domain of individuals locked away inside their homes, madly typing away on their own, we now see blogging conglomerates coalescing around themes. This is particularly true in the US and Europe, where mega-blogs have emerged, epitomized by blogs like TechCrunch for technology, Gawker or AOL's Weblogs Inc blogging networks, BoingBoing for eclectic news and the Huffington Post for US politics. 

The question is, "has blogging lost its feeling of freedom, untethered and raw that once defined it?"  Not at all, for a couple of reasons.

Mega-blogs as Filter
First, though we've seen a growth in mega-blogs and multi-author blog networks that fill the role between traditional media and unfettered citizen journalism, this doesn't discount the massive number of single bloggers still writing on the ground-level by themselves. Though these big blogs are targeted by PR firms and companies for early scoops and information, many times these mega-blogs act a lot like filters where they comb a certain niche category of smaller blogs for interesting information, and then repost and add their analysis of the information.

Microblogs, Status Updates and Mobile Phones
Second, while we myopically focus on what we define as blogging and the use of citizen reporting (and the homogenization of the same) in the West, we lose focus of the impact, growth and use of citizen media channels and their use in the rest of the world.  For instance, let's look at Africa. Blogging levels in Africa range on a country-by-country basis; we see large and vibrant communities of bloggers in South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon and Tunisia, where there is generally a decent penetration level for both connectivity and computers, but much lower usage in places like Malawi or Liberia. This doesn't mean that citizen voices aren't on the rise across the continent, because they are.

Equally important to take note are upcoming tools in the space that allow all of us to communicate in shorter and more direct ways. That raw and unfiltered feeling that we got from blogs years ago is still well represented in emerging conduits like Twitter and microblogging platforms like Tumblr, or even within status updates on Facebook. This isn't unique to the West, as in Africa alone there are at least five active, country-focused microblogging platforms that allow for open discussion by anyone with access to a phone or internet connected PC.

A Rising Tide
In fact, this same methodology has been taken to a new level, and you see the new form rear its head more each week. It is most apparent when there is a major event in a country, whether it is a politically taut Iran or Honduras, an earthquake in China, a pop star's passing in the US or the Confederations Cup in South Africa. When these events happen, affecting millions of people, there is a growing number of individuals reaching for mobile phones and the PC to start broadcasting news and information directly to the world. It is no longer a one-to-many mass broadcast, it's now a mass-broadcast to mass-broadcast environment.

We are all part of this sea change in news, information flow and transparency - where the barriers are finally so low that anyone in the world can tell their story, and the whole world can see it. There is no stopping this change in information dynamics, there is only harnessing it in ways that add more value. 

I witnessed this first-hand in Kenya's post-election meltdown last year, where we launched a tool called Ushahidi that allowed anyone with a simple mobile phone to text in a report of what was going on around them. It meant that even if no traditional journalist, or even a blogger, could get to some out of the way area where violence was happening, that the citizens themselves had an outlet that was free and open to use.  We had lowered the barrier even further. 

So, in answering my question at the beginning, we see not a loss in the freedom and raw power of citizen-based communication, but a burgeoning growth in it that threatens to overwhelm us all.  In fact, the wave is coming on so strong and big that the most important question we need to ask is not how to get more citizen blogs, updates and voices, but how to filter it so that it remains useful. 

The Blog Is Dead.....oh no it isn't, oh yes it is...

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Rory Cellan-Jones | 15:41 UK time, Wednesday, 15 July 2009

(Rory Cellan-Jones is the BBC's Technology Correspondent. He reports across the BBC and blogs at BBC Technology Blog. He can be found and followed as @Ruskin147 on Twitter. The following post is published with kind permission and represents Rory's views; this does not necessarily reflect the views of the BBC or the Digital Revolution production.)

Is blogging now a dying art, its perpetrators losing heart, its audience heading for the doors? Well no - or I wouldn't be writing this and you wouldn't be reading it.(Hello, hello...???) Or is the original spirit of the blogosphere being diluted, as mainstream media bloggers take over what was meant to be a playground for amateurs? Oh, undoubtedly - again, see here for evidence.

The gloomy view is that this tidal wave of corporate, media establishment bilge is ruining blogging. But it seems to me that the blogosphere  is just going through the inevitable growing pains that affect any new medium - and something useful will emerge.

The life-cycle of the mainstream media's relationship with any new web phenomenon goes like this - ignorance, incomprehension, derision, hysteria, and finally boredom.
So it took some time for anyone on a newspaper or in television to realise that "weblogs" had arrived on the scene, and were distinct from the newsgroups and bulletin boards that had hitherto been the main route to self-expression online.

Then there was incomprehension, followed by derision, at the idea of anyone wanting to share their mundane thoughts, their daily activities, their prejudices, with the rest of the world - that after all was the job of the newspaper columnist. This is the stage of the cycle from which Twitter is just beginning to emerge.

Next, there is almost hysterical adoption of this shiny new idea, in newsrooms, board-rooms and think-tanks, all desperate not to miss the wave. Having instructed all of their journalists or executives or consultants onn the importance of blogging - or Facebook or Twitter - and then discovered that it is more time-consuming, complex and costly than first appeared, the establishment soon gets bored and starts casting around for the next big thing.

That of course is a parody - we at the BBC are steadfast and sensible in our use of blogging and social networking - but I think you'll agree there is a smidgin of truth there.
And while the mainstream media may be bored with blogs, I see few signs that the bloggers are going away.

The blogosphere is now a far more varied place than it was a few years ago. Blogs range from the voices crying in the wilderness about obscure issues of interest to a tiny audience, to executives meditating over corporate issues with greater or lesser degrees of frankness, to practical types using the medium to organise and discuss anything from a bowls clubs to a Polar expedition, to veteran journalists finding a new way to explore stories while engaging with the audience in ways that were not open to them previously.

What they all have in common right now is a nasty bout of existential angst, with bloggers haunted by a number of questions. Why am I doing this? Is anybody out there? Is this really a blog? And, most pressingly if their blog is in any way commercial, has anyone spotted a business model?

Bloggers are also finding out rather painfully that the interactive element essential to the medium - the testing of arguments, the cut and thrust of debate -  can too often turn into an unpleasant and unilluminating shouting match. Our own Nick Robinson has recently confessed that he's stopped reading the comments on his blog, and I'm sometimes depressed by the way the respondents to our technology blog "dot life" line up behind Apple or Microsoft, and start lobbing verbal hand grenades at each other in the most tedious fashion.

So there are plenty of reasons to be depressed about the blogosphere. It hasn't quite lived up to its early promise of a place where new voices would be heard, where reasoned argument would take place - a kind of Athenian ideal of democracy. Like just about everything else that has emerged from the web in the last couple of decades it's messy, chaotic and imperfect. But then, so is democracy - and nobody has come up with anything better than that either.

what's become of the blogosphere?

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Aleks Krotoski | 09:37 UK time, Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The blogsophere is dying, apparently. The long tail of user-generated content, brimming with idiosyncrasy and experimentation - the great hope of the libertarian levelling ground promoted by the Web's founding fathers - is petering out. The anecdotal 1% of content creators (versus the 99% of content consumers) is moving away from the more formal end of story-telling/reporting (a process that takes time to craft, link, illustrate and post) because they prefer to keep in touch using quick-fire, low-cost tools like Twitter and Facebook. The result is a ghost town - nay, a ghost metropolis - of blogs that are, well, dead.
Oh the fickle, fickle Web. Oh the Ridalin-smoking, post-MTV, fast-edit generation. What have you done to our new media revolution? Don't you realise that in your absence, the new media mega corps are stepping in to perpetuate the old media models, to establish Old Boy hierarchies and to open and close the gates of information at their whims and inclinations?
Huffington, Gawker, Digg: these are the establishment figures for the next generation - the Hearsts and the Murdochs of the blogosphere. They may have started out pushing the boundaries, but now they've cemented their foundations as bridges between the people who understand the power of this new medium and those who desperately want to.
And what of the rare and the obscure ephemera that captured the imaginations of the Great Blogger Rush of 2004, when the world and its grandma got a blog because it seemed like the thing to do, and there might be a book deal at the end of it? Has the world really lost interest in, oh, I don't know - Smell-o-Vision, or has the person behind simply realised that typing into a vacuum isn't much fun?
Of course, out of the vast sea of digital nonsense, hierarchy was inevitable. In the lean communication Internet platform, we seek out sources of information that we can trust. To establish a new resource's credibility, we must rely on heuristics of similarity and familiarity. We have to thank Arianna HuffingtonNick Denton, Kevin Rose and their media revolutionary contemporaries for standing firm at the precipice of the chasm between them and the offline big brands, otherwise we'd simply be reading the same content from the same sources. These new rebel aggregators provided a point of focus for blog consumers to gather around, highlighting quality and popular content that was an alternative to the content that Old Media thought was worthy. They've done it faster and more transparently and are more accountable to their readers.
But the result is that the great levelling ground has morphed into a giant virtual pyramid. Yesterday's revolutionary has become the today's institution. Where will the next upstarts come from?

more highlights from Web at 20

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Dan Biddle Dan Biddle | 12:05 UK time, Monday, 13 July 2009

A flurry of editing yields our promised second video from the Web at 20 launch event with Sir Tim Berners-Lee and special guests.

During the event, one statement that impressed enough people to spawn a flurry of tweets was Sir Tim's comparison regarding web censorship and buying a piece of writing paper - that he wouldn't expect to buy paper that came with the constraint that he could only write truth upon it, nor would anyone expect to buy drawing paper that prevented you from drawing a nude figure on it; the web in the same vein should be a blank canvas for expression, not repression. "Any attempts to constrain [the internet] would be very, very short-sighted, as we don't know what people will want to do the future."

Then there's the wonderful moment of 'civilised altercation' between Baroness Susan Greenfield and Bill Thompson: Thompson declares privacy an outdated and useless for people in the 21st Century; Greenfield's reaction could politely be described as incredulous.

Finally, again in response to a question posed via the web, Sir Tim and the panel debated the web as 'a basic human right, like clean water.' This was questioned by both Greenfield and Thompson, but Sir Tim's reply was clear: that where there is internet and no clean water, clean water can eventually be achieved via the opportunities the web provides.

Despite this clarification, at least one tweet released around this time questioned the strength of Sir Tim's assertion and no consensus arrived from the panellists. So where do you stand on this? Can the internet really be placed at the base of Maslow's heirachy of needs along with clean water, food and shelter?

Tim Berners-Lee and the web at 20 (Video)

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Dan Biddle Dan Biddle | 20:29 UK time, Friday, 10 July 2009

"The web is a basic human right; like clean water."

So said the creator of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, in answer to a question posted online and relayed at The Web At 20 launch event for Digital Revolution.

As part of the ambition of the Digital Revolution project to start a conversation about the web to collaboratively create a documentary about the web, Sir Tim joined Baroness Susan Greenfield, Digital Planet's Bill Thompson, Wired magazine's Chris Anderson (live linked from San Francisco) and presenter Aleks Krotoski to present their ideas about (as Bill Thompson put it 'one of the most important things we have managed to do as a species' - the World Wide Web.

We filmed the event and, while we will post a slicker, more complete and cohesive version featuring all of the speakers and questions from the afternoon in a subsequent blog post, we thought you'd like to see a quick edit of Sir Tim's speech and the first part of the Q&A asap.

Unsurprisingly, considering there were more than a couple of BBC TV content producers in the room, there were several questions around the web's new models for content, audiovisual and beyond. If there were gasps of horror at Sir Tim's line: "The concept of a [TV] channel is going to be obsolete on the internet - it's not relevant." they can't be heard on the recordings...

And if this leaves you hungry for more and you can't wait for the longer video to arrive, as is the wont of the web, you can find other reports of The Web At 20 from the web itself; from Rory Cellan-Jones on the BBC Technology blog; or audio snippets via Bill Thompson's Audioboo:



Or from those that were present (and those that weren't but were watching the tweets and responding). You can read the tweets we sent out from @BBCDigRev and search the wider twittersphere under tags such as Tim Berners-Lee, #webat20 and more as your imagination and search-fancy takes you.

Enjoy. And, as ever, your comments are greatly appreciated.

the web is... too good for us?

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Aleks Krotoski | 12:58 UK time, Friday, 10 July 2009

To free data or not to free data: that is quite a big question. The cases for opening up data are revolutionary: data freedom would utterly transform what we could do for ourselves, for each other, for the world. The cases against are usually wrapped up in the context of commercial ownership, intellectual property and national security.

Personally, I am cautiously, respectfully sceptical. As a social psychologist who studies the human interactions that criss-cross the Internet, I see a whole lot of community phenomena that challenge my faith in the liberated digital culture that the data freedom contingent describes, but I don't believe it should be owned either. Nicely on the fence, then. The problem as I see it is that technologically, an open data system would be remarkable; socially, it simply wouldn't last.

We are wonderfully fallible creatures with extraordinary dreams and the capacity to follow them. The founders of the Web came to this new communication platform with liberal, libertarian ideas, dreaming of a utopia where information would be shared freely and equally amongst its inhabitants. They were idealists, and the tools they built reflected this. As the Web rolled out, people with similar mindsets tuned in to their passions and realised the possibilities, and set about establishing the first borderless communities in a Wild West digital frontier.

Everything was good for a while. People talked about the levelling ground of the web, where class, gender, race and physical ability didn't matter, where everyone could be self-actualised, where society could transcend the physical, graduating into the cerebral. We didn't need to be constrained by our corporeal inequalities anymore: society would advance online in a whole new and wonderful way. All our needs would be met through this technology. The kernel of revolution was born, as it had been many times before.

Now, with the 20-20 vision of hindsight, we know these crazy dreams belonged to the digital utopians. They were impossible. Almost immediately, people started establishing boundaries, putting flags in the virtual sand, declaring ownership of thoughts, ideas, concepts. Hierarchies started to form, at first based on the technological prowess of the so-called Wizards of online communities, who had access to and could amend the back-end servers and databases that ran the consensual hallucinations people were operating in, and later on the lines of social acceptability that people drew in the sand: the conceptual boundaries started to morph the egalitarian ideals into clusters of Us versus Them, rights versus wrongs. Virtual things started to develop value, little digital pieces of ephemera that had no relative value offline, but meant the world to people inside the communities. And then people started claiming ownership to this stuff, getting defensive about it, wanting it only for themselves.

And then the pragmatists arrived: commerce sniffed out the Internet and things really changed. Since then, our consumption of the content on the Internet has transformed completely, as we engage with a layer on top of the technology that is almost entirely owned by commercial interests.

I think the reason we're so passionate, so fascinated by the Web today is because it taps into something inside us that really, desperately wants the world to be free, open and level, but it continues to reflect us so beautifully, so perfectly, that it magnifies our bizarre foibles that make us human. We stare, mouths agape, at stories about how we aggregate under virtual governments and policing forces, how we create brands and gatekeepers to help identify what information we should and shouldn't trust, how we draw lines in the sand and claim ownership over 1s and 0s. The Web is a reflection of our isms, and even in the most libertarian spaces, order and hierarchy re-assert themselves.

This is the theme I'd like to explore in the first episode of Digital Revolution, and in a series of four posts over the next few weeks, I will look at some of these issues: the hierarchies that have evolved from the 'flat' Wikipedia; the transformation from the blogosphere's new media idealism into old media institutionalisation; the power brokers of the Internet; and just how far we can be pushed before we claim ownership of our intellectual property.

These are issues I'm trying on for size. They are not fully formed manifestos, but the beginnings of a process that I hope will inform my understanding of the bigger issues of the Web, and will help us shape the programme that we will produce.

(How you can get involved

the web is...? (Video)

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Dan Biddle Dan Biddle | 11:13 UK time, Friday, 10 July 2009

The web is...?

Out there.

Out there right now, people are answering the question 'The web is...?' And they're doing it in some very imaginative ways.

On YouTube you will find a growing host of video responses to 'The web is...?'

Some from BBC personalities:

Others from web users who have given the web some thought and shared their ideas. From the historically accurate:

To the romantic and personal:

To the downright surreal:

You can enjoy many, many more by visiting our YouTube channel or searching for #thewebis

There's also a The Web Is Flickr group featuring photos and images of 'The web is...' Again, the range of interpretations illustrates the diversity of the World Wide Web. Here's an interesting take from JulianS

Rwanda 086

And then there's the Twittersphere's take on it. (You didn't think we'd get through a blog post without mentioning tweets did you?) Some tweets out there include:

what is Digital Revolution (working title) all about?

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Dan Biddle Dan Biddle | 10:16 UK time, Friday, 10 July 2009

What is Digital Revolution?

Digital Revolution (working title) is an open source documentary, due for transmission on BBC Two in 2010, that will take stock of 20 years of change brought about by the World Wide Web.

Why 'working title'?

The production is a work in progress; the website is a work in progress; even the name is a work in progress, and will change before the series is transmitted as a final product for TV. Trust me when I tell you that no small amount of anguish and wailing has already gone into attempting to name the series, and when the time's right, we'll share that anguish and ask you for your ideas for the title; but for now we're going with Digital Revolution.

Open source documentary - what do you mean by that?

This is open source with lower case o and s. We're making a documentary about the web and we figure it would be foolish to attempt this without engaging the web itself: its active community of contributors (and detractors).

It is our ambition to open up the production process as much as possible; to share as much of our thinking as possible, as the production team strive to create a cohesive, accurate and relevant documentary about the World Wide Web. We'll be blogging as we go; we'll share our theories; we'll be putting up rushes from the filming; we'll be asking for advice and stories from you as we go along.

Basically, we want you to get involved.

Why should I?

The BBC intends to tell the story of the web in four one-hour programmes on BBC Two. This story will reach a wide audience, an audience who may not necessarily have thought very deeply about this modern phenomenon beyond email and YouTube. We're telling the story and we want to get it right. It's a unique opportunity for collaboration between the production and the web; how much you engage with this process is up to you. 

What do you want from us?


Stories of the web's development and the phenomenal changes it has brought to the world. If Jay Rosen is right in the video below, and the web is people - people connected by computers, then to find out anything about the web we need to engage with people to tell its stories.

Once again, we're back with you.

The content on this blog is meant to open up debate - debate with you. Tell us where we're getting it right about the big issues, and - more importantly - tell us when you think we're wrong.

But, let's remember to play nice! We're all learning here, and if you feel you have something you'd like to add, please resist the temptation to shoot us down with a hail of flaming invective (and we'll resist the urge to become hurt, defensive and pouty).

Our ideas aren't fully formed but are in progress and we would love constructive feedback from you, including examples, stories, pictures, links, videos, tweets and illustrations that you think would make the point better.

How can I get involved?

This blog is the hub of our activities, and the best place to comment and share information, but we're also across a number of platforms. We're on Twitter as @BBCDigRev. We're sharing our online research on delicious.

There are also activities across the web answering the question 'The web is...?', including YouTube/thewebis and a The Web is Flickr group.

What's the process?

The production has several stages; likewise the shape of our interactivity will take different forms as we progress.

1 - Pre-production
We've been in early development for some time, but as of 10th July the production launches proper. The director and production team for programme one start Monday 13 July, and from that point onwards we will be blogging the production's current story and thinking. We'll also feature guest bloggers, who we hope will stir things up, add another angle to the debate, get us all thinking harder.

At this stage, your input, your comments, and your links will be read by the production team and will shape the direction the story takes. And everything will be part of our online interactive documentary that launches alongside programme transmission 

2- Filming
Once the production teams are in the field there will be less debate around scripts and stories, as the business of collecting the content will be led by the scripts written earlier in the process. The team will be on location and will be sharing their discoveries and sending back their rushes, which will be placed onto the blog asap to give you the fast track line to our interviews as they are recorded. We'll also be on twitter from locations, asking for anything from extra questions for our contributors, to the best spots to get a good shot of Silicon Valley, to where to lay our lips upon the life-giving froth of the best cappuccino in town.

3 - The edit
Come November the majority of the material for the programmes will have been collected and the serious business of editing the many hours of footage into cohesive one hour pieces begins. At this point, we'll be inviting you to comment on the direction we're taking and also to have a full and frank discussion about the series title.

4 - The series transmits
In early 2010 the four programmes will air on BBC Two. We'll post shortform clips from the series that link off to all the comments, debate and discussion on the blog and elsewhere around the web.  

Who are you? Who's doing the talking here?

The production teams are still being recruited and we will add to this list of players as they come on board, but for now, we are:

Aleks Krotoski (presenter)
Aleks Krotoski is an academic and journalist who writes about and studies technology and interactivity. She is on the final push to complete her PhD thesis in Social Psychology at the University of Surrey at the end of 2009, examining how information spreads around the social networks of the World Wide Web.

Aleks also writes a column for The Guardian newspaper, and hosts Tech Weekly, their technology podcast. She blogs on the Guardian Unlimited network, and maintains several of her own blogs on topics that range from her academic work to a proto-interest in Americana and country music.

Finally, she's the New Media Sector Champion for UKTI, the government department that promotes British businesses around the world.

Aleks tweets as @aleksk

Dan Biddle
Dan is the Assistant Content Producer and manager of the blog. A geek with a chef's background, Dan manages the Digital Revolution blog and Digital Revolution content around the web. ~DanB on @BBCDigRev

Dan Gluckman
Multiplatform Content Producer for Digital Revolution, Dan's main concern will be the interactive online experiments that will accompany the series and production, as well as worrying about everything Dan Biddle's doing. ~DanG on @BBCDigRev

There will be more people joining us along the way, and we'll introduce them as we go. Until then, if you have any questions, comments about the production and the online project, leave us a comment below and we'll get back to you. Remember - play nice!

Digital Revolution (working title) is a BBC / Open University co-production.


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