February 26, 2008

Again on social networking sites

I've just realized that I might be behind the curve now.  I admit, I'm not keeping a constant watch on news about the Internet, but in my subjective experience, the amount of English-language media coverage given to blogs has decreased whereas it seems to me that the current information technology zeitgeist has been taken over by social networking sites.  You know, stuff like Facebook, MySpace, etc.  My guess is that blogs and bloggers are starting to find their niche in the Anglosphere, thus becoming more mundane with every passing day.  One certainly can't disregard the high visibility of political blogs in the US and the constant commentary on them provided by the traditional news media.

So: blogs are mainstream now.  What else is next?  Social networking sites, apparently (a.k.a. SNS).  I mean, Foreign Policy did an article on them and The freaking Economist has a Facebook group.  Yeah, I know, it's a bit bizarre.  I wonder who's responsible for maintaing that group?

Okay, so perhaps when such staid auld institutions like The Economist have joined Facebook then it's more a sign of being mainstream than cutting edge (and apropos of nothing, but apparently The Economist's website has been redesigned).  However, being so new, in real time as opposed to Internet time, SNSes have barely been studied by academics so far.  Scholars are still grasping at the answers to such basic questions as who uses Social Networking Sites.  Via the Freakonomics blog on the New York Times website (see what I mean about blogs becoming mainstream?), however, I found these two links to various stuff around the Internet related to SNSes:

The first is an article from the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication by Eszter Hargittai, a sociologist from Northwestern University and contributor to the Crooked Timber group blog entitled "Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites" (2007).

Hargittai mentions that "students who have at least one parent with a graduate degree are more represented on Facebook, Xanga, and Friendster than they are in the aggregate sample, while students whose parents have less than a high school education are disproportionately users of MySpace", which is to say that North American socioeconomic divisions are reflected online by which SNS you join: MySpace for the working class, Facebook for the middle class.  This accords with what danah boyd observed in the blogpost that stirred up quite a lot of online reaction, partly because I think Americans don't like to be reminded that class exists in their country (and as another tangent, I'd actually made the exact same observation as her that Facebook and MySpace users were clearly being segregated according to class and had even been half-assedly formulating a blogpost on the subject, though it's just as well that she broached the subject first since she reaches more people and she actually used more than 50% of her ass when writing the post).

Basically, the point of the article is that who joins and stays with SNSes can be somewhat predicted by various demographic factors, and that we might be seeing the rise of a new social divide, this time between those who use SNSes and those who don't.

The second link is a story about how people inadvertently flock and follow leaders when they are in crowds, such that 5% of crowdgoers can nonverbally direct the movements of the other 95%.  Qué interesante, you say.  Nunca he pensado sobre esta tema.  That's not what I really wanted to point out, though.  Instead, look at the bottom of the press release and see that there are buttons for you to share the story on both Facebook and Digg.  I'm somewhat impressed that the University of Leeds' publicity department is on top of this Web 2.0 thing, since university websites are usually not that up with the haps online.  Perhaps even SNSes are approaching mainstream-ness (mainstreamity? I think I like this one more).

Still, nothing can top my last item, this time coming from the blog: it seems that Owen Wiltshire, a grad student at Concordia University in Montreal, is planning on studying how anthropologists who study online social phenomena form online communities themselves.  Yes, you read that right, an online anthropologist is studying how online anthropologists work with each other online.  It's so deliciously reflexive.  He's also got his own blog, so I might just pop over sometime and say whattup.

January 14, 2008

The World’s Top Social Networking Sites

From Foreign Policy:

The World’s Top Social Networking Sites

Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace have made the world seem like a small place after all. But even on the Internet, persistent language barriers and cultural differences mean that the planet may not be quite as interconnected as you think.

Coming to Costa Rica, I found out first-hand how parochial the Anglosphere really is.  It's easy to over-estimate the global reach of English when you're immersed in it, but one must remember that the majority of the world doesn't speak the language of Shakespeare.  The Anglosphere might seem all-encompassing in its totality, but all you have to do is change your linguistic environment and suddenly people are talking about celebrities you've never heard of and singing along to classic songs you never knew existed.

As offline, so also online.  I'm only now dipping my toe into the Spanish Internet and it's rather fascinating to discover the differences Spanish Internet talk has from standard written Spanish (for instance, hardly anyone uses the upside-down symbol things like ¿).

This article from Foreign Policy is a nice round-up of the state of social networking sites in different language zones of the world.  I hadn't known that Orkut was big in India or that its membership had plateaud, and neither did I know that Facebook was also big in the Arab countries, nor that Skyrock even existed.  And finally I found out who's been using Hi5.  Anyway, do read the article, it's only 2 pages long and is a good corrective to English-language ghettoism online.

December 30, 2007

The poor man's Internet

I posted this on the board of the Facebook group Asian Media and Contemporary Cultures but it seemed a shame to just leave it there where only group members could see it.  Lately I've mostly been using Facebook to do stuff that I used to use this blog for, it's just that I've mostly been writing personal stuff (yesterday I visited the rainforest, etc.) and it all seemed to insubstantial to put up on what I consider to be a serious blog.  Anyway, the short essay:

I tried to write this comment in response to the posted article "Communities Dominate Brands: As web content migrates to mobile internet" but it was apparently too long.

Anyway, I wrote that such rah-rah essays extolling the future within our grasp never sit quite well with me because they never mention what happens to people who can't join the revolution.

As a grad student in Canada I couldn't afford to surf the Internet on my phone (that first phone bill was a shocker), and now in Costa Rica I don't even have the option. The government has a monopoly on telecommunications, there are long waiting lists for cellphone numbers and long lineups outside the govt. offices when new numbers are added, and most phones are 5-8 years old. Only in November did ICE (the Instituto Costarricense de Electiricad, which despite the name handles more than just electricity) sign an agreement to allow the use of Blackberries in the country and it was specifically mentioned that it was for the convenience of foreign executives in Costa Rica, not local ones.

This situation has come about mostly through the exigencies of politics, as in many other parts of the world. All of my fellow development workers stationed in Africa that I've talked to have mentioned how much slower the Internet is there than they're used to, and I remember being warned against using Flash in my pre-departure training because it would slow down the computers of developing country users to unacceptable levels. Perhaps viewing the mobile Internet on a PC will be akin to watching colour programs on a black and white tv, but I can't help feeling that we're watching the further economic segregation of the Internet, as indeed already exists for the global high-speed vs. dial-up divide.

Time will tell, I suppose, as it always does. Anyway, what are other people's experience on the subject of digital divides vis-a-vis Asia and other parts of the world?

January 23, 2007

Articles about blogging

From Francessa's Blog Research, I share with you The master list of blog articles.  This baby is massive and seems as up-to-date as possible.  I also like The top 20 most-cited blog resources.  Very handy.

Terminus est

Yes, it's true: Ranma 1/2 has finished its run. Actually, it finished its run in Japan more than ten years ago -- I'm referring to the English translations of the manga. I already know how it all ends, having read the fan-made digital translations that have been on the Internet for years, and since I was originally a fan of the animated version, which itself has been done for a while, the end of Viz Comics' translations doesn't impact me in any appreciable way. Still, I feel a twinge of nostalgia at the announcement of the series' end (or rather, felt, since I've been meaning to blog about this since I first heard about it in November).

The history of Ranma 1/2 in North America is pretty much the early history of manga and anime in its first non-Asian environment. Apparently, Ranma 1/2 was one of the first manga hits in the US, although as I said, it was really the anime that first captured my attention. I'm willing to bet that other fans followed similar trajectories in their discovery of manga.

You see, I loved the anime. I loved it so much that I finally reached a point where I couldn't bear to wait for more Ranma episodes to be translated and dubbed in English, so I found a place on the Internet where one could actually download the comic books which the anime was based on. These digital versions of the comic were translated by fans from the original Japanese comics, then the Japanese comics were scanned and the original Japanese dialogue digitally replaced with the English translations. Of course, the fan translators were aware of the copyright violations they were technically committing. They justified their actions by only translating issues of Ranma that Viz, the English-language publisher, still hadn't gotten around to, and therefore these fan translations weren't stealing money from Viz at all.

To my knowledge, this project was the first instance of what is now called scanlation, which is the production of fan-made digital translations of Japanese comics, although I'm seeing more Korean comics now and some Chinese ones, plus a handful of French bandes dessinees. Normally, scanlators only work on series that aren't being published yet in English, and should a publisher pick up a scanlated series, the scanlators are expected to desist in their work. A publisher could charge scanlators with copyright violations, but they choose not to do so if the proper forms are observed by the scanlators. After all, a manga reader has no reason to spend money on a completely unknown series, and scanlations allow that reader to sample the wares before buying. Publishers are well-aware that turning a blind eye to scanlations and filesharing actually increases sales for their translated comics (the reverse of what opponents of filesharing claim). It's thanks to scanlations that I've been introduced to manga like Eden and Welcome to the NHK!, the former being a series I intend to buy and already on my Amazon wish list.

As you should note, then, the Internet has been instrumental in the expansion of fandom, especially Ranma fandom in this case -- I still remember getting tapes of the series from a friend of mine. Before scanlations caught on, which pretty much means before affordable scanners and high-speed Internet arrived, online fans of manga apparently used text translations of the comics that were released by other fans online. They'd buy Japanese versions of the comics and switch back and forth between the comic and the printed translation. It all sounds quite tedious, which is why I'm glad I never had to deal with such an unwieldy system.

Still, I haven't explained what Ranma 1/2 is itself about. What kind of series could have aroused such passion in my young self, such devotion that even now, more than half a decade after I'd last encountered any version of the series, I should still rhapsodize about it? That's kind of a long story, one which deserves to be explored in its own post, but definitely a topic I'll revisit.

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