Torrent Tracking on Open Networks 101

Today is Northern Voice (I’m presenting tomorrow, but today is the unconference, most of which I hope to catch!), but right now I’m riveted to my laptop (poring over comments about torrent tracking) before I head out to UBC. Really good back n forth over at Nicholas Weaver’s Random Thoughts regarding claims as to whether it’s actually possible to block torrent traffic (more over at Copyfight). I’m convinced such tracking measures can be circumvented and that torrent sharing can’t be stopped. These debates seem to reaffirm this position, notwithstanding drilling into the tech nitty-gritty.

To repeat – the web is an Open network. Strategies to Close it go against its grain, and are stupendously impractical if not impossible.

The Internet Is Filesharing :: On ISP Levies and Creators’ Rights to Remuneration in Canada

I was recently asked by the Songwriters’ Association of Canada (SAC) to submit a briefing on why file sharing is inevitable, and why a levy system for ISPs makes sense. (The SAC is in the process of submitting a proposal along these lines to the Canadian government, in light of the political deliberations over where our copyright law is headed).

Here‘s the draft of my briefing to them (PDF, 176K). The gist of it? The internet IS file sharing. Comment, suggest revisions, and correct me where I’m wrong, if you please.

Read the SAC’s Proposal and sign up to support it here.

The PhD – the comprehensive exams

So I’m diving straight into my comprehensives now. I’m building lists and checking them twice (and more). While building these reading lists is in many ways a very personal journey, I’ve decided to blog about the process so that I might get feedback from unexpected locales, harnessing the “wisdom of crowds” (while simultaneously, in both comp areas, critiquing how such “wisdom” is in fact problematic). I also hope that documenting the process can help others through it. I won’t be posting my full notes (who’d read them?), but I will share my definitional essays, my questions and answers, and an account of process along the way. I’ve written up preliminary préces of my two exam areas below.

Area 1. Science and Technology Studies. This will involve SCOT, ANT and other critical theories, but it will also dovetail through Philosophy of Technology (I’m thinking Heidegger through Marcuse and Feenberg, and also including Ellul and others, perhaps a few off the beaten track – we’ll see). I want to ask questions through this literature about the relationship of technology, power and social organization/social change. There are also some intriguing connections with Area 2 (below) via Hennion/Latour (their work on culture industries), and, according to one of my advisors, Habermas’ Public Sphere as well as Lazarsfeld.

Area 2. Culture Industries/Sociology of (The) Art(s). Starting with Hesmondhalgh’s (2002) synthesis of political economy of media studies with cultural studies and other approaches to the sociology of art, I plan to broaden this area out to include American and Continental approaches to the study of cultural/creative industries. This will likely include a range of approaches, including Bourdieu (various), Becker (various), and DeNora’s more recent work, but this area is still under development. There are important connections to literature on occupations (Balfe, Latouche) organizational studies (Throsby, Sacco, Menger), and of course The Frankfurts. Essentially, as I told one of my advisors this morning, I want to survey the body of work that theorizes culture industries, without limiting myself to a particular tradition (as approaches vary broadly). Keep in mind that I wish to keep this area current, as well, and as such I will need to make room for Eglash’s (and others’) work on appropriation, as well as Jenkins’ (and others’) work on fan culture. Sprawling enough? It makes sense to me.

My advisors, colleagues and friends (as well as the “social web” hoi polloi) can feel free to jump in any time. Like you have any time.

Single Sign-On and Content Aggregation: a Preliminary Analysis of their Potential in Facilitating Progressive Social Change

What is the relation between the technology of single sign-on and community mobilization?

There are two approaches to – or models for – the twin issues of convenience and security in our current era of mass content browsing: (1) single sign-on (OpenID, MicroID) and (2) content aggregation (Jaiku, Pageflakes, Readr). Both solve certain problems in terms of managing content communities and users. There is no reason why either model cannot be employed to accomplish the same goal of mobilizing and invigorating communities – politically, culturally, environmentally, socially, and so on. Essentially, both approaches enable the construction of activity streams that users can publish, share, syndicate, and read.

There are crucial differences between these two approaches, though, which bear implications for their social deployment. Single sign-on puts users in a position to conveniently sign up for numerous applications and web services with the same ID (reducible to an email address, URL, or phone number), while content aggregation streams users’ many different accounts into a single location, giving them the freedom to import and export feeds from other sites (ranging from the lightweight Jaiku to the sprawling, all-encompassing Facebook).

The two models differ by degree. The amount of “in-house” functionality offered in content aggregating services makes a crucial difference in the ways in which these technologies are adopted – their bias, of sorts. Whereas OpenID simply authenticates “who you are”, Facebook more intensively mediates self representation by deploying its own services (messaging, mobile updates, profile pages, and so on), and by inviting developers to build little gates into its fenced (though not quite walled) content garden.

Facebook is also letting developers decorate the place with garden gnomes and suchlike. It is worth considering the potential negative implications of development solely for one corporately-owned platform, either presumptively (Facebook) or retroactively via buyouts (Google’s approach, e.g., their recent purchase of Jaiku). As a sidebar, these represent more systemic problems on the horizon of social networking and social change – the traditionally uneven political economy of the information economy, which keeps growing its corporate heads back like a hydra, no matter what utopian promises are being made at any given time by any particular indie widget pusher. But I’ll save that discussion for a later time. Here I am concerned strictly with considering which of two technical models might be more specifically appropriate for the function of enabling social change via open content and communications.

Ultimately the Facebook model (fenced in web within a web) will fail in competition with services that leverage the myriad multiple devices and software platforms that currently populate the growing mobile technical ecosystem. With no clear standard for operating systems on mobile phones, there is much work to be done to enable everyone to talk to everyone else. On the other hand, application developers have an immense opportunity to build tools that facilitate syndication and sharing over thousands of different mobile devices and networks – and crucially, in effective community mobilization crossing boundaries of culture, geography, and social class, this involves devices that range from iPhones and Nokia N-series computers down to the lowest tier SMS-capable phone. Given this variability, the argument for an authentication protocol that is as much as possible only that – an authentication protocol – and not an “environment” like Facebook (a web within a web), is more palpably constructive, in terms of bridging divides.

Where the goals are social, cultural, and political, primarily – mobilizing communities to create and share mobile generated content with the underlying aim of improving people’s lives in tangible, measurable ways – this can take many forms. The definition of “community”, or the definition of the user group is crucial here. For instance, a mobile web services platform can accelerate citizen activism (sousveillance of arrests and/or protests, which has proven highly effective in providing a limited “fourth estate” that keeps police, government officials and other powerful entities in check, a count on which traditional mass media has failed miserably). Mobile web services can also help invigorate communities of independent musicians and music audiences, providing platforms for content and fan-artist-remix interactions on-the-go. And, mobile web services can enhance and amplify existing community cultural infrastructure, something Mobile Muse 3 specifically aims to accomplish with its development of projects in partnership with cultural organizations around Vancouver and the Province of B.C. For all these instances, single sign-on and content aggregation provide good models for coordinating clouds of user data generated into a navigable, mappable semantic space.

There are other models of community media, however, that call into question the viability of single sign-on, and that point to content aggregation as the better model. In particular, there are two: contexts where identities are divisible, and contexts where identities are combinant.

Combinant identities
In many rural communities in the Third World, mobile devices are shared – by couples, by families, and in some cases by entire villages. In cases where the intent is to distribute and share not only the software – along with the text, images, audio and video carried over the mobile media service – but also the hardware (the phones), single sign-on poses complex problems. How do multiple users properly authenticate on a shared wireless account/phone number? How could a single phone be configured to accept multiple accounts? Obviously, swapping SIM cards doesn’t get around the problem, as this necessitates the purchasing of multiple wireless accounts. In Vancouver’s downtown east side, for instance, how would a shared mobile infrastructure (including shared handsets) work? Wi-fi phones – such as Nokia N-series phones – are only a partial answer, as wireless internet is not (yet) ubiquitous in Vancouver, and effective use of mobile browsers is not enabled by the current applications available for N-series phones or their competitors. In short, a combination of protocols (SMS, MMS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi) are the best bet – enabling as many connections – both free and paid, both easy and challenging – as possible.

Divisible Identities
The second scenario in which single sign-on fails is where users deliberately maintain multiple identities within the same or different sites or environments. Youth and marginal and/or vulnerable populations may require these multiple identities in order to manage the diverse range of social contexts they must occupy in order to survive (for example, keeping family, friends, work, and school distinct even if overlapping).

There is also a third possible area of identity management (a mashup of divisible and combinant, if you will) that comes into view in the present analysis – the recombinant identity – particularly important in a (post- or non-modern) world of dynamically shifting alliances and antipathies – where identity may be continually shifted to accommodate a diverse range of individual and (recombinant) group needs and goals. Here, too, the notion of single sign-on cannot compete with the contextual flexibility afforded by the model of content aggregation.

As a structuring model for the development of community mobile services, single sign-on is problematic in terms of how it reduces individuals to indivisible and noncombinant entities. Content aggregation seems to be a far more viable model for community building and mobilization, as it is adaptable to a wider range of social and cultural contexts – in which identity may be conceived in different ways, or in which it may simply manifest in technical networks in different ways due to the exigencies of human survival.

AOIR Music and Sound Panel – Oct 18, 2007

This update is running quite late, but is still valuable, I think, in attempting to sustain the dialogue which was unfortunately given too short an interval at our panel on Music and Sound at the AOIR conference last week. As well, I particularly need to move among the “diaspora” of AOIR (As Nancy Baym phrased it) as, variously, splitting headaches and tons of work – both domestic and non- kept me from schmoozing to my fullest capacity. So much to do I couldn’t even attend presentations or panels that I really really needed to see (especially this one, this one and this one).

In the interest of, as I said, sustaining some dialogue about our panel, I’ll offer a brief summary from my notes, which are mainly comprised of questions that I didn’t get to ask. Where possible I’ll link to the various presenters’ webpages or blogs, and I’ll reiterate the link to my own slides with notes. Here goes:

Marj Kibby presented her paper on Myspace and bands. Having been part of a band on Myspace for several years, I came out of this talk with too many questions for one small panel. I believe her research is an excellent introduction to this sphere for the uninitiated, bringing a textual analysis directly to the live profiles of a number of her research subjects, but for a seasoned Myspace whore such as myself, there was nothing here I hadn’t already guessed. Still, my questions were numerous, as Marj’s work overlaps significantly with mine:

  • what of the myths of “overnight success” (Sandi Thom, Amy Winehouse, et al). how does the ‘gaming’ of these networks by conventional producers change the dynamics of fan-artist relations?
  • what happens when the “influences” and “genres” sections of profiles become oversaturated (as in cases where bands and fans alike list hundreds and hundreds of influences, or inappropriate genre categories)? doesn’t this degrade communication? what do fans make of this? and once certain modes of communicating identity are spent, to where does the communication of identity migrate?
  • how does one sample artists from the thousands on myspace for survey research? what strategies are there for (1) sorting through fakes, side projects, false starts, unofficial profiles, and other artifacts of the myspace ecosystem, and (2) ensuring the sample is representative of a particular slice of time in the life of the site?
  • aren’t the rules of fan/artist interaction mediated by the specificities of artists/genres/subcultures? is it the same to interact with Radiohead as with Tapes and Tapes as with SFIAS? can we make general claims about fandom based on a random sample of myspace bands?
  • how can we be assured of the value of the “long tail” value of the networks of Myspace, given the persistent power of mass chain buyers like WalMart in influencing trends in the music industry? and how can musicians monetize this in ways that subvert/get around the (parasitic or progressive?) intentions/profit of the parent corporations who provide the infrastructure of Myspace?
  • what does News Corp gain from fan/artist networks of Myspace? how are corporate goals consistent with or in contradiction with the goals of artists and fans who use the site for music discovery and sharing?

Next up, Andrew Ó Baoill presented his research into podcasting and community radio. I was intrigued by this talk, and I thought that he deserved more questions at the close of the panel. The engagement of these two worlds – community radio and the podcast community – has far reaching implications, especially for parts of the world where community radio is a primary source of news, information and entertainment for many. I’m curious about how this topic interlaces with mobile media and device adoption in developing countries, in situations where community radio is a vital communication resource, and where the adoption of mobile media outstrips that of tethered ICTs. But insufficient time prevented me from asking Andrew his thoughts on this.

Next, I presented my talk on technical micropolitics and independent music. I don’t have any questions for myself. This is just placeholder. I’m just following the timeline. O SNAP!

The last talk of the panel was by Klaus Bruhn Jensen and Rasmus Helles, tantalizingly entitled “Society Switching“. Their research into the phenomenology of sound is quite fascinating, although the talk itself seemed to be merely the tip of the iceberg. I’m particularly intrigued by the use of the concept of generativity (borrowed from linguistics) and structural-functionalism in developing their theoretical framework. I’d love to read any published work from this research (hint-hint, if you cats are reading this).

Question period followed, which included lively input from the erudite Tarleton Gillespie (who seemingly followed me all the way from 4S), panel moderator Mark Latonero and Hanson scholar Holly Kruse (whose panel I really wished to see but couldn’t due to a headache – hint hint, Holly, I want to see your paper!).

Please do chime in if you were a presenter or in attendance and didn’t get to sound off in the limited F2F session that we had. Otherwise, I’m busy trying to mentally connect all of this with Henry Jenkins’ ideas about the moral economy of Web 2.0…back in a minute or so…

Technical Micropolitics and Musical Amateurs

I presented at AOIR today as part of a panel on Music and Sound. Here’s the PDF of my talk, complete with notes.

I did this with an extreme headache, and a growing sense that I need to, as my friend and colleague Flo articulated it the other day, “coccoon” myself in books again for a while. Assez des conférences maintenant!

panel 2 panel

4S PlenaryI’m back from Montréal, having had a good but curt time in la belle province. 4S (image of the plenary at R, more available here) was, to be honest, hit and miss; some panels were dull as television, and some others were painful to watch due to speaker-unpreparedness. Sometimes I wonder about the fine line between sociology and fannying about.

However, I saw some great presentations, too. I very briefly met Ron Eglash and Tarleton Gillespie, who’ve both written recent must-reads in my area, and got an earful of value out of their panel on appropriating technology. I also took in some interesting debate about bioethics, particularly as regards the personhood or patenthood (I’m making that expression up of course) of genetically modified organisms. And while these debates sorely lacked any real progressive ethical opinions about animal welfare (about which I tried to chime in but was squarely edged out of the ring by the ushers of positivism masked as dispassion), they were certainly stimulating conversations. At least, that was my reading of the situation…The most important question that I came out of the conference with, pertinent to my research, that is, was, “is music like other forms of knowledge? can we study it in the same way scientific knowledge is studied?” If I follow this path, it would situate my dissertation research squarely between fan/amateur studies and STS. I’ll tentatively suggest those as comprehensive areas and start exploring from there, I think.

Anyway, I’m rambling without naming names. One of the best outcomes of this conference is that I seem to have overcome my fear of flying. Out of the three flights it took to get there and back, I endured about two hours’ worth of turbulence without so much as stiffening up. It was fun again, like when I flew as a kid – sort of like a low key amusement park ride.

And now, AOIR…the command centre is built, the stations are being assigned, parties are being canceled, and the internet research community is about to swoop down on our unsuspecting, digitally-divided city. I’m still pulling my presentation together, but it should generate the feedback I need at this early stage of research. Hope to see some of you there!

4S, Montreal

Production-consumption continuumI’m blogging this from the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) conference in Montréal. We (Roy Bendor, Jack Post, Peter-Paul Verbeek and I) just completed our panel on Bruno Latour (“Translating Latour”) and I’m now in a very interesting panel about “Problematizing Technological Appropriation”. My first impression is that it’s a great complement to my presentation on digital music and Latour/Hennion, which I’ve attached as a PDF here (PDF, 364 K, with notes!).

The theoretical work around appropriation has really flowered since I first stepped into this space in 2004. It’s interesting – and reassuring – to witness so many theorists constructing diagrams of production/consumption that echo, build upon, and totally dwarf in profundity the one I first proposed then (at right). I’m referring to the work of Ron Eglash – who has constructed a continuum of production and consumption that accounts for appropriation, power and marginality. Cool stuff – I should be reading this.

Other than that, I’m running on a third wave of sleep denial therapy induced by (1) a sleepless redeye flight on the same day I taught for a ten hour day, (2) compressed conference schedule (2 within 2 weeks), and (3) baby’s sleeping schedule. I’ll sleep after my head is over-full with musings on the ethics of cloning, toppling streetcars in the 19th century, the programmable web, Yahoo Pipes and postphenomenology. What dreams may come?

Remake/Remodel

Clicknoise Logo (no text)I hope I haven’t used this Roxy Music song as a post title before…

While assembling my upcoming conference papers, I’ve been twiddling with this blog on the side in lieu of regular updates (well, alright, I’ve also been focused on the dupobs release schedule – you can listen to the newest tracks as they are released week-by-week here – among other things).

Today I dug out this logo (at right) I’d been working on a few months ago, but with which I was never completely satisfied. Upon reflection it seems more than appropriate for this blog: the somewhat smooth interweaving of issues around authorship and copyleft with the combination of concerns with wireless networking and music (sideways, the sound icons in OS X are almost identical to that operating system’s representation of wi-fi – a happy accident of usability design that lends itself well to my palette of concerns), and not to mention the freehand look of the uneven radiating lines, which lends some indie credibility to the whole thing, I think.