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In the series “algorithm regulation”, we discuss the implications of the growing importance of technological algorithms as a means of regulation in the digital realm. 

For a few hours today, Uber users could view their passenger rating thanks to a how-to posted by Aaron Landy. Uber gives both passengers and drivers ratings, probably by averaging the post-ride ratings each gets, and they affect whether riders can get picked up and whether drivers keep their jobs.

UberlogoPassenger ratings like these raise two kinds of concerns: first, that opaque and inaccessible metrics don’t allow for recourse or even explanation; and second that driver ratings aren’t very consistent or reliable raw material for those metrics.

You hear stories from people who missed a pickup because of buggy notifications, for example, and those people all of a sudden just can’t catch a cab. Any kind of technical error can skew the ratings, but because they’re invisible they’re also treated as infallible.

Read the rest of this entry »

Guest blogger Nina Engwicht discusses a controversial performance art project in Berlin aiming to help Syrian refugee children.

Arrival of Jewish refugee children, port of London, February 1939

(Wikimedia; CC-BY-SA-3.0-de)

“1 in 100” is the slogan of a nightly ironic talent show currently put on in Berlin by the activist performance artists of the group “Center for Political Beauty” (Zentrum für Politische Schönheit). One in a hundred Syrian children will be saved, is the promise. In order to help the German government decide which children should be rescued, the audience is requested to vote for a child they would like to see rescued from the civil war: “1 in 100! One child wins. The others can go on dying. (weitersterben).

The artists urge their audience not to make light of their responsibility, but to use their right to vote. The show’s web site (http://voting.1aus100.de/) displays pictures and videos of each child, many of them badly hurt, some of them crying, some of them starving. The video of “child number 2” shows a boy desperately crying after a bomb attack. From off-camera we hear a man, presumably his father, saying “My God. My God. My children are dead. My children are dead”, while the boy cries for his brothers and sisters. The campaign’s Facebook page presents all these candidates and informs readers about their respective chances: “Child Nr. 61 only has two votes. Call now!”
Read the rest of this entry »

When Sigrid and I researched the organizational network orchestrated by the US non-profit Creative Commons (see our MPIfG Discussion Paper 08/8, PDF), one of the most interesting findings was the benefits of its transnationalization efforts. What initially appeared as a challenge – legal differences between jurisdictions and the perceived need to adapt its alternative copyright licenses accordingly – actually turned out to be a mobilizing and diffusion strategy. At least initially, porting the licenses to different jurisdictions provided a task for locally embedded copyright lawyers, who then became part of a transnational network of affiliate organizations helping to promote Creative Commons licenses. So, at least in this case of private regulation via standards distance between different actors became an asset.

In their most recent paper entitled “Distance as asset? Knowledge collaboration in hybrid virtual communities” (not open acces available yet), economic geographers Gernot Grabher and Oliver Ibert make a more general argument emphasizing the benefits of geographically dispersed communities. They define hybrid communities as “a specific kind of community, which encompasses on the one hand the sphere of professional expertise, and the mundane world of ordinary users, lay-persons, enthusiasts, and hobbyists, on the other” (p. 101). Empirically, the paper compares three types of communities with three cases each:

  • Firm-hosted communities (Huggies Happy Babies Forum, Kraft Food Message Boards, Dell’s Ideastorm Forum)
  • Firm-related communities (IKEA Fans, Nikonians, BMW Luxury Touring Forum)
  • Independent communities (A Swarm of Angels Forum, Sandboarder Forum, DCA Forum)

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About two and half years ago, I wrote a blog post on shifting baseline effects in assessing copyright regulation. My main argument was that a large proportion of researchers, practitioners and regulators cannot even envision how the much less restrictive intellectual property regimes of the past have worked because what we perceive to be a “natural level” of protection has changed.

Today, XKCD provides a great illustration of the concept of shifting baselines more generally by commenting on the recent debates on cold weather in spite of global warming:

xkcd-cold-global-warming-shifting-baseline

 

(leonhard)

In a very recent study on “Paid vs. Volunteer Work in Open Source” (PDF), Dirk Riehle and others found that “about 50% of all open source software development has been paid work for many years now and that many small projects are fully paid for by companies.” However, in openly licensed projects outside of the software realm, the co-existance of paid and volunteer contributors is often considered problematic. For example, while paid coding is uncontested and vital for open source software, paid editing in Wikipedia is often seen as a danger to both the project’s neutral point of view and the motivation of unpaid contributors.

How serious the effects of Wikipedian’s skepticism towards paid editing can be was evidenced last week, when the Wikimedia Foundation dismissed Sarah Stierch, one of its most prominent employees, because of paid editing. The current issue of Wikipedia’s community newspaper Signpost is entirely devoted to

the dismissal of Sarah Stierch, whose paid-for editing activities were first revealed in a blog post. This included a screenshot of Stierch’s profile on oDesk, a global clearinghouse for the hiring and management of remote workers. The profile showed that she had been paid US$300 to author a Wikipedia page for an “individual”, along with two billed hours for a “Wikipedia Writer Editor” job that was “in progress”.

On a more general level, paid editing had already been an issue in the German Wikipedia community. Wikimedia Germany, the local Wikimedia chapter organization, had even funded a project on “Grenzen der Bezahlung” (literally: “Limits of Paying”) to discuss and evaluate issues around paid editing. The project was run by Dirk Franke, a long-standing member of the German editing community, who very recently has taken up a position with Wikimedia Germany (unrelated to paid editing). The following interview was conducted in German and Dirk Franke emphasized that he was speaking only for himself, not his new employer.

Dirk Franke (Foto: Tobias Schumann, CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Dirk Franke (Foto: Tobias Schumann, CC-BY-SA-3.0)

You have been working on the limits of paid editing in Wikipedia in a project funded by the Wikimedia Foundation. What was your main question? 

Dirk Franke: Actually, the project was funded by the German Wikimedia association, which is legally independent from the focal Wikimedia Foundation. In addition, I have not conducted the project for Wikimedia but rather in the course of a grant program, where members of the community could suggest different projects; I always understood it that way that I was conducting the project for the Wikipedia community and not so much for the chapter association.

The question was more a practical one. Paid editing is both a forseeable problem and a forseeable development. Thus, the question was, how can I encourage the community to think about the issue even before the problem is immediately around the corner and it is in fact to late?

Read the rest of this entry »

About three months ago, I blogged about potential explanations for Wikipedia’s diversity problems (see “‘Middle-aged White Guys’“). Last weekend, a truly bordercrossing crowd gathered in Berlin to discuss strategies for addressing these problems at the first Wikimedia Diversity Conference. Due to other commitments I was not able to take part the whole time but I have enjoyed most of the sessions I was able to attend.

Since there is extensive documentation on most of the sessions available online, I will only highlight some of my personal insights:

  • In her talk on “Diversifying India through outreach among women“, Netha Hussain emphasized the importance of Wikipedia Zero to increase participation in countries, where mere Internet access is not self-evident. Wikipedia Zero enables mobile access, free of data charges, to Wikipedia in developing countries via cooperations with local internet service providers. While some criticize the initiative because of it being a violation of net neutrality principles (see, for example, this mailing-list discussion), it really seems to be a great opportunity to lower access barriers in poorer countries.

Wikipedia_Zero_Logo_and_photo Read the rest of this entry »

As we have discussed repeatedly on this blog (e.g. “Middle-aged White Guys“), one of the most puzzling issues in analyzing Wikipedia is its continuous decline in active editors since 2007, shortly after a period of exponential growth:

The number of active editors (>=5 edits/month) in English language Wikipedia (Halfaker et al. 2013)

Active editors (>=5 edits/month) in English language Wikipedia (Halfaker et al. 2013)

Aaron Halfaker, together with R. Stuart Geiger, Jonathan Morgan and John Riedl, has now published results of their research efforts to understand the reasons behind this editor decline in American Behavioral Scientist under the title “The Rise and Decline of an Open Collaboration Community: How Wikipedia’s reaction to sudden popularity is causing its decline” (see Preprint PDF).

One of Halfaker et al.’s core findings is that, while the proportion of desirable newcomers entering Wikipedia has not changed since 2006, the proportion of them being reverted in their first session has increased (“good_ faith & golden” refers to sub-groups of desirable newcomers): Read the rest of this entry »

What does interculturalism mean and imply – in theory, in practice, and politically? The 7th Global Conference of the non-profit network Inter-Disciplinary.Net will target this question with a focus on identity, its construction and reconstruction. Readers of this blog may be particularly interested in themes related to globalization, governance implications of border-crossing identities, and/or struggles over resources.

Read the rest of this entry »

“The Baby trade is likely to continue to grow, partly it is no longer simply a response to wars and humanitarian crises. For better or worse, it now behaves much like a commodities market, with demand informing supply; and neither demand nor supply is likely to subside.” – Ethan Kapstein 2003

Since Madonna and Angelina Jolie famously adopted children from Africa, the international adoption system is under fire.  The suspicion is that the system may be driven by market forces and profit seeking, and that regulations and international conventions just camouflage (illegal) market practices and facilitate the trafficking of children.  Clearly, international adoptions are serious normative and political issues for the “sending” countries because children are normally understood as “sacred” and are loaded “with sentimental or religious meaning” (Zelizer 1985: 11). They should be protected, educated and loved.

The international dispersion of these ideas is reflected in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which has been signed by 193 countries until now, who

proclaimed that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance …  [children] should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding …  in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.

Extra commercium

The idea of child protection clearly reserves them “a separate noncommercial place, extra-commercium” (Zelizer, ibid.). However, although it is prohibited, child trafficking is still a worldwide phenomenon. Usually it takes place between “Third World” countries and the industrialized western world, and it appears in different forms. Especially the practice of “child laundering” has gained high attention. Read the rest of this entry »

In in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA, Susquehanna University hosts the Northeast Modern Language Association’s 45th annual convention. The panel on Cinema and Migration in the cluster about Cultural Studies and Film caught my interest as it “aims to explore cinema across borders and in comparative perspective” (cfp).

Maria Catrickes welcomes applications for presentations by September 30, 2013. It is a tempting opportunity to cross disciplinary borders – if anyone would notice a social scientist slipping in?

The date of the event is April 3-6, 2014.

(jiska)

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
August 2014
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