Flattr

Some of you may already have noticed the Flattr button on the bottom of each article, which I embedded last week. Flattr is an easy tool for online microdonations, founded by former Pirate Bay spokesperson Peter “brokep” Sunde. This short video explains how it works:

The idea is simple: As a Flattr user you charge your account with a small sum – five or ten bucks, maybe – which you intend to spend during a month. You can then “flattr” sites which have embedded a button, like I did. The monthly sum you have designated is then equally split among all sites you have flattered, with the company retaining a 10% fee. If you have 5 Euros to spend and click on ten different buttons, each site owner will thus receive 45 cents. If you don’t flattr anything for a month, the money you intended to spend will be donated.

Flattr is not the first service of its kind. E.g. there is Kachingle (“Social cents for digital stuff”), which works on a very similar model. But the Swedes seem to be the best player on the field, and their service has already enjoyed a certain success, at least in Germany. Many blogs, such as my former and current employers netzpolitik.org and Spreeblick, have embedded the button as well as leftist newspapers taz and Freitag.

Despite this early success, there is still a lot of doubt as to whether Flattr will eventually end up as a viable source of income for bloggers, online journalists, netlabel musicians and others who publish creative stuff on the ‘Net. Some argue that in the end, a small circle of netizens will end up flattering each other with peanuts. That’s at least a possible scenario.

But something I like about Flattr is their stress on the fact that there are no different user types in the system. If you want to embed a Flattr button on your blog, you first have to charge your own account to be able to flattr other people’s stuff. This comes from an understanding of the social web as it should be: Everybody a creator, everybody a consumer.

Enthusiasts have spoken of a new age of “prosumers” (a portmanteau from “producer” and “consumer”), as those who are engaging in this post-industrial hybrid behaviour have been called. As a matter of fact, they are still an avantgarde, at least in most of the world (South Korea seems to be on the forefront of this development). Take it as Flattr’s utopian moment, I like the way they are embracing the advent of a new read/write culture.

This blog is written without financial interests in mind and published under a very free Creative Commons license. If my articles are useful to you and you want to give back, come flatt(e)r me.

Flattr is still running in beta and you need an invite to join. I still have some, so if you would like one, write me an email to [myfirstname] at [thisdomain] or contact me on Twitter.

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“TV or it didn’t happen” – on Russia’s media landscape

I am currently back in Novosibirsk for a week-long exchange organized by djo, Sibirischer Bär and Jugendbund dealing with “freedom of media and the press”. Special thanks to Ira for the invitation!

Today was packed with talks on both main stream media and the blogosphere in Russia. While the country’s blogosphere is extremely huge – a count by yandex registers 12 million blogs – the internet is still of minor importance relative to Germany. This is also caused by the fact that only about 40% of the people have access to the net.

TV is still king in the information business. As Evgenij Mezdrikov quoted from a movie title, “if it was not on TV, it didn’t happen”. At the same time, online media outlets seem to lag behind in the adoption of new technology compared to Germany. According to Mezdrikov, allowing user comments and using multi media is still relatively new.

In fact, Russian journalism seems to be in a bad shape. Viktor Juketschev even announced to talk only about “the living parts” of the media landscape, i.e. the privately owned outlets. According to Mezdrikov, “media don’t produce facts”, but only distribute them. Investigate journalism is therefore hard to find.

One reason Mezdrikov gave is that the authorities in general act repellent towards journalistic requests, even though Russia’s freedom of information act is the only worldwide favoring media professionals over ordinary citizens. Officials are obligated to answer their requests within 7 days, while queue time for citizens is 30 days.

That was especially interesting for me because I recently attended a workshop on “Legal Leaks”, where we discussed the issue of privileges for journalists. There’s a very informative toolkit on using freedom of information requests in journalistic work.

Even though he highlighted their advantage of being eye witnesses, Mezdrikov agreed with me that citizen journalists cannot make up for professional investigative journalism. Viktor Juketschev later presented “Tak-tak-tak“, a “social network for civil rights” which aims to provide activists with a platform where to organize collaborative investigation and publication of issues of public interest. I am rather doubtful of its possible success, as activists lack both time and funding for bigger projects.

Elia Kabanov presented several cases of persecution of bloggers and journalists for their writing both on- and offline. Even though Russia has a bad reputation for press freedom due to a series of high profile murders of journalists, repression against bloggers is not as widespread as in other countries.

In some of the cases Kabanov spoke about, police intervention seems fungible, e.g. a fake amok threat. In general, sentences seemed quite harsh, even though prison sentences are rare. After all, local police seem to act independently, which means that there’s no national agenda for repression.

One reason for some of the arrests could be that “people think they can write everything”, as Kabanov said. In some people’s eyes, that includes threats, libel and publication of private data. Kabanov later talked very negatively about Russian blog comments, which he perceives as predominantly useless or even hateful, which could explain his argument.

On the other hand, there seem to be no examples of huge political campaigns driven by Russia’s blogosphere. I presented about Germany’s movement against internet filtering, which is sans analog in Russia. Blogs still need to bring issues to the attention of main stream media – especially TV – to make an impact, of which there are increasingly successful examples.

Or, as Elia Kabanov said, “100 years ago their was a saying, ‘the stone is the weapon of the proletariat’. Today, a blog is the best weapon of a free man.”

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The Digital Museum

Last Friday, I attended the presentation of a new book, “Deep Search“. They had a quite an interesting panel discussion with a few guests, including Mercedes Bunz, a German tech journalist writing for the British “Guardian”.

Later on, I stood together with another guest. Via Viktor Mayer-Schönberger’s “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age” (there’s an interview with him by David Weinberger on Radio Berkman), we arrived at the question what digital goods – documents – ought to be preserved. And, more importantly, how to choose them.

For most of human history, the idea of preservation did not even exist. Things were either used or abandoned. What they were built from would become a natural resource for later generations. The Colosseum became a quarry, and vellums with the writings of Aristotle were recycled to contain Byzantine prayers.

At some point, our societies started chronicling human history by preserving artifacts and documents. They had – and still have today – designated places for them (museums) and experts (archivists, curators) who are in charge of deciding what is worth keeping – and what’s not.

Just as newspaper editors, curators are an elite. They are gate keepers, filtering a ubiquitous ressource (information here, artifacts there) for cultural value. This has been an important task, as space is limited, in newspapers as much as in museums.

But, as Clay Shirky writes in “Here comes everybody”, in the digital space the paradigm has shifted from “filter, then publish” to “publish, then filter”. Subsequently, the Digital Museum ought to preserve anything ever published on the Web – and let users sort through it using search functions and rank exhibits by popularity. In fact, Archive.org is doing just that.

But memory capacity isn’t a ubiquitous ressource. Even Archive.org needs to make decisions about what to preserve and what to let vanish. The obvious solution is to crowdsource the exhibits of the Digital Museum. Now the question is: Do we have to fear mob rule?

The answer was one of the most interesting parts of Friday’s panel discussion. As Mercedes Bunz remarked, there has been another paradigm shift. While the industrial age was marked by a trend towards homogenity, the networked information society shifts towards customization.

What does that mean for the Digital Museum? It does not have a main exhibition, but consists of a plethora of theme rooms, each catering a small subculture or niche interest.

This is not absolutely positive. If today we go to an exhibition, we will most likely be confronted with exhibits that we would not come across were they not paired with others that we are interested in. It’s the same with newspapers, or conferences.

In the Digital Museum, this ought not to happen. We, the visitors, with our questions (queries) decide exactly what we will see. In return, the museum will only show us what we already know about.

Imagine such a museum in the analog world. You fill out a questionary about your preferences upon entering and will be served accordingly. At Transmediale 10 yesterday science fiction novelist Bruce Sterling talked about atemporality. If you want to be an astronaut, he said, just dress up as one. You will look ridiculous, but by what standards?

The Digital Museum is bound to feature equally ridiculous situations. As I joked, a Nazi will only get to see Hitler memorabilia, a Communist Soviet agitprop. In the analog world, the question is: What happens if two Nazis and a Communist enter a room together? Will the majority rule, or will the exhibits split to equally represent visitors’ preferences?

In the Digital Museum of customization, people can enter together without noticing each other, neither their differences nor what they have in common. It is possible to fully withdraw from public discourse, one of the pillars that support our democracies.

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