Monday, September 30, 2013

Energy Footprint of the Internet

The Internet, as remarkably resourceful as it is, must take in some resources to sustain itself. The cost may not be as visible as landfills or garbage islands in the middle of the ocean, but the cost still exists, and should be acknowledged.

Wastefulness, or just how I feel when I go on Reddit?

What is the energy cost of using the Internet? As it turns out, the prospects are pretty green.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Digital Research

I've previously talked about the role of the Internet as a data generator as well as a medium for collaboration. I thought that I'd drive the point home some more by talking about a very specific example of these roles in action.

The Internet: Another piece of lab equipment!

Today, I'm going to talk about a weekend project of mine. It was an open-ended group assignment meant to prime us for the research process of grad school. The fact that we could even get anywhere with the project is a testament to the sheer power of the Internet as a resource.

Monday, September 16, 2013

To Catch a Redditor

A while back, I posted about a conflict between two website audiences - YTMND and Ebaumsworld. There was some controversy over content ownership, which resulted in an organized movement against Ebaumsworld by YTMND's community. Participants (probably having an average age of 14) jokingly referred to the event as "World Wide Web War 1".

Of course, that was back in 2006. The Internet's changed a lot since then - communities have grown larger and more heterogeneous. You wouldn't ever expect to see a spat break out between two website communities in this day and age, right?

Click to enlarge, and learn just how wrong you are.

In 2012, members of SomethingAwful's community launched an organized effort to shut down Reddit's vilest sub-forums - and won. Here is a story of equal parts social justice, online vigilantism, and inter-community drama.

Most of this story (and article title, too) is shamelessly taken from a SomethingAwful thread that you could probably read yourself, but it would require forums registration that is not free. It's a shame, because I think watching the narrative unfold is very entertaining. Hopefully, after reading this post, you're left with a sense of amusement and moral satisfaction.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Internet in the Middle Kingdom

If you were to look at the top-ranked Alexa websites right now, you'd probably recognize most of what you'd see. However, you probably wouldn't recognize two of the top ten most visited websites on the Internet - Baidu and QQ.

Google only 4% of the market share? Did someone turn my world upside down?

Baidu is a search engine, comparable to Google. QQ is a website that features news and other useful tidbits, comparable to Yahoo or MSN. Of course, they are both situated in China, and designed around servicing the Chinese online population.

As English-speaking Westerners, we tend to only see parts of the Internet that are also in English. That means we'll tend to run into people from the United States, Canada, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. Every now and then, you might run into someone from Northern Europe, Mexico, or South America. There are still several billion people in the world unaccounted for in our daily online experiences. How bizarre is it that we have this giant network technology, and yet our vantage points are still very limited by language?

Let's take a look at the Chinese Internet. I should note that I am writing this as a complete outsider to the culture, and can't speak Chinese at all. I cannot possibly do the subject adequate justice, but let's give this a try.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Online Cults

A "cult" is hard to define. The term is used very subjectively, and usually pejoratively. Typically the most fervent anti-cult movements are run by religious people, and that's a slippery place from which to argue against differing beliefs. The concept is inevitably tied to fringe - and harmful - religious beliefs, practice, and institution, but the details are very fuzzy.

Nonetheless, this is how I imagine cultists on the Internet.

We've talked before about how the Internet has given atheism a loud platform, but what about new religious movements? While the numbers did indicate that non-religious numbers were on the rise, we can't necessarily assume that the "no religion in particular" category excludes people that participate in cults, since they might not even think of it as a religion. We also know that the Internet can be very insular, allowing for strange community quirks to develop.

Since we're talking about online religious movements, we won't include the movements that started before the Internet.  Even though Heaven's Gate had a (hilarious) website in the mid-90s, we wouldn't count it because they got their start in the 1970s.

Let's explore what the Internet has come to offer by way of new religious movements.