Treemapping the world’s news

newsmap is a Flash app that takes the news stories being aggregated by Google News and creates a graphical space-based representation called a treemap of the data – the larger the area of each story, the more widely covered it is. Thus it shows what the world is currently reporting on in a simple graphical format. Extra features like colour-coding stories by freshness, classifying by country and being able to compare different time periods, as well as a pretty UI, make it quite cool. Similar apps for what blogs are linking to (e.g. by reading the RSS feeds from Blogdex or Technorati) would be a nice derivative.

(via the immensely fab Boing Boing)

Fake iPoddery, etc.

The other day I speculated that some of the people that you see wearing white earphones on the Tube actually have them plugged in to an old Walkman, as they can’t afford an iPod but crave the social status it gives, so they just buy the earphones. Anyway, the Register reports that people are now being targeted by muggers if they wear white earphones (although anyone with a name like Roland Baskerville deserves to be mugged anyway, if you ask me), which may kill off this tedious vanity, but then again it might not. As the Reg puts it, “The police are advising iPod junkies to use less distinctive headphones, something which is apparently akin to asking Victoria Beckham to shop at Oxfam.”

I would quote something from that recent Alain de Botton programme on status anxiety, but I can’t be bothered. Instead, and on a totally unrelated note, I’ll mention that chavs now have their own special category in Yahoo. Actually, maybe that’s the solution – start making iPods in Burberry. That would wipe out their cult status overnight.

Some thoughts on Internet & democracy

I’m recovering from a bout of food poisoning (my completely inexplicable liking of scotch eggs getting the better of me) so I’m not on top form. But here’s a few initial thoughts of my own on what I highlighted in my last post, which has received some ire from people like Jeff Jarvis.

There is a big confusion between how the Internet is changing political participation in developed countries like the United States, and less developed ones like Laos. In the US, organisations like MoveOn are able to bring together individuals on both local and national levels together – with so many technically literate people, and so many having easy Internet access in their homes then it’s easy to co-ordinate large-scale and movements with the Internet – the shining example of the Howard Dean campaign, where like-minded people in the same town could meet up and join forces, is held up by those who are convinced it’s the future.

The folly of both the author of the article (Joshua Kurlantzick), and many of the knee-jerk responses to it, is that this model is the one to be used in developing countries. Kurlantzick thinks “its the only method and so is doomed to fail”, his detractors that “it worked for us, so why not others?”

But people, and the Internet can adapt to different circumstances. Kurlantzick rightly points out the relative scarcity of Internet connections in developing countries, and how people cannot crowd around a computer in a net cafe and hold local discussion groups, so the Internet doesn’t help much in producing a local political focal point. It is unable to reach through to hundreds of thousands of people, but that doesn’t prevent a few who are able to get online to co-ordinate on a national level, or much more importantly, the international level.

The Internet offers people the chance to make others abroad aware of your plight, to help you co-ordinate with campaign organisations in other countries to lobby their own governments in support for your cause, and they in return can give you advice and support. The political education and inspiration obtainable over the Internet is far more useful and relevant than relying on what is produced broadcast media, if less accessible. And as much as regimes would like to restrict content on the Internet, I think the pervasiveness of information makes it too difficult for governments to totally surpress everything.

The Internet is not a panacea for bringing democracy to all (Jarvis’ closing line of “In this century, the Internet means freedom” is a terrible false soundbite). To mobilise democratic movements in developing countries requires leadership and organisation at local as well as national levels. You need the effort and the bravery to form unions and parties, hand out leaflets, organise demonstrations. The Internet can’t do that. But it can certainly educate and inspire the few, who can in turn help educate and inspire the many.

The Internet and its ‘failure’ to spread democracy

An interesting New Republic article on why the Internet won’t topple tyranny. I don’t agree with everything it says on how the spread of the Internet will not bring liberty or democracy to opressed peoples, but it’s an eye-opener anyway. I think that it’s far too early to judge its effectiveness, or tell exactly how much effect it has had – the Internet hasn’t been a major part of life in the West for a decade, yet alone in more repressive countries, and to judge changes in world politics against the same rate we expect from the Internet is unreasonable.

But it highlights well how many governments (particularly the Chinese) have managed to successfully control the Net (and with the help of technology made by US companies), and makes a good point about how the solitary usage of the Internet, and its more anarchic nature actually make it harder for widespread solidarity movements to form exclusively around it. It hints to the wider point that the anti-globalisation coalitions, in their current form, are doomed to fall apart and fail thanks to their members’ disparate beliefs. Ultimately it says that single-issue groups and Western technology companies will be the only instigators of political changes brought through the Internet. I still need to think about the issues raised before making a full informed opinion on the matter…

Minor fame, weekend recovery

Sunday’s edition of Broadcasting House on Radio 4 was nice – they very briefly mentioned the Daily Mail-o-matic (although the presenter erroneously said he had downloaded it, which I think unlikely), although they didn’t give out the URL. The show is available online to listen to [RealAudio], the important bit is about 46:30 in.

Oh, and apologies for the random entries made early yesterday morning – I blame Damian.