Short Essay Assignment

Due: Friday, September 24th at 5:00pm
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Write a 500-700 word essay that discusses economic or cultural implications of a website or a specific piece of internet-based technology, grounding your discussion in the Carr and Anderson readings. Your essay should include:

  • A clear and concise description of the technology
  • Identification of an important cultural or economic implication
    of the technology
  • Specific references back to the Carr and Anderson readings to
    support your discussion

For example, you might argue that Kickstarter, a website that gives people a new way to collect start up capital, supports the long tail of investing and discuss the potential economic impact of the site.

12 Comments so far

  1. thvard on September 24th, 2010

    “When a door closes…” a website opens. Layoff Moveon (LoMo) was without doubt a child of our times (1). In the specter of deepening recession and increasing financial uncertainty, 651.000 jobs were eliminated in March 2009, raising US unemployment rates to a 26-year high of 8.1%. This, however, was only the tip of the iceberg: 4.4 million work positions had been slashed since December 2007, while according to Nigel Gault, senior US economist at IHS Global Insight, the cumulative job loss in the US from January to February 2009, was the worst since the demobilization of troops at the end of World War II (2).

    In March 2009, Jessica Lybeck, owner of Till Creative (, a business strategy – design consulting website “helping entrepreneurs build their ideal business”, had already spent a month of unsuccessful job-hunting after losing her part-time position at SOM Urban Design & Planning Studio in Chicago. At the same time, Josh Cotten, LoMo’s co-founder and Jessica’s former co-worker at SOM, was reassessing his career choices and seriously considering to resign. They both wanted to move on, and they were not alone. “Hey, know anyone who’s been laid off? We can all name a few … million. How about a place where we can cut through the job search clutter?” (3).

    Immersed in a world where unemployment was becoming a social pandemic, with serious financial and psychological symptoms in increasing parts of the population, Jessica Lybeck and Josh Cotten came up with the idea to launch a “Delicious-type site of tips to finding jobs” (4), serving simultaneously as an “emotional support” social networking tool: a platform where people would be able to share their personal stories, relate with others dealing with similar situations and draw the strength to “move on”. LoMo was designed as a multi-mini-blogging website, where users had the ability to create personal pages (profiles), post “their absurd tales of unemployment” and seek support “from others who feel their pain” (5).

    At the same time users were able to “follow” other profiles that they considered interesting and watch their “peers’” trajectories as they surpassed the unemployment traumas and gradually regained control over their lives. Through this simple idea of misery&hope-sharing LoMo created a powerful hybrid that combined the reality show’s comforting effect and the subconscious translation of an overwhelming goal (finding a new job) to a much simpler and game – like one (updating status to “Moveon”), while at the same time reversed one of the fundamental sources of depression related with unemployment, social seclusion, and transformed it into a precondition for contact and interaction: the more interesting the “Layoff” story, the more the followers.

    However, besides Jessica Lybeck’s assertion that the website “is more about the emotional context of things than it is about action (6)”, LoMo surpassed the limits of an online large-scale group therapy: from the very beginning, the website also functioned as a tool for tips and information exchange on emerging employment opportunities. Soon, the peer-to-peer job info exchange within LoMo’s “community” was, according to Josh Cotten, followed by the active involvement of companies who would use the website as an “employee-fishing” tank. LoMo provided a considerable advantage that few employers would overlook: it offered intimate information, confessions, behavior samples under extreme stress conditions, full exposure of strengths and weaknesses.

    We cannot but notice the close affinities that this procedure shares with what Nicholas Carr describes in the “A Spider’s Web” (7), when he refers to “the mathematical modeling of humanity” (8), or in other words, the creation of algorithms that use various personal skill or non-skill related data to predict the employee’s performance. If such “modeling” was to be applied, LoMo could potentially serve as an ocean not only of choices, but also of existing data to quantify and evaluate them.

    Given the numerous precedents in issues such as Internet privacy and due to the persistent social stigmatization that unemployment still carries, the website members were explicitly discouraged from disclosing any information that could be traced back to them, such as their real names or photographs. In order to register one only had to submit a valid email address and answer a simple set of questions, such as age and gender, primarily used for site demographics. It would be pointless to argue that besides its intentions, LoMo escapes Scott McNealy’s general proclamation, that due to the level of sophistication of data mining algorithms “You have zero privacy – Get over it!” (9).

    Indeed, the user demographical data, combined with the inevitable references to their previous or prospective working experiences in the context of “casual sharing of personal stories”, provided a crystal clear consumer profile and could even, as Carr claims, be very easily related to the user’s actual identity. We thus find ourselves before a very interesting aspect of “The Control Revolution” (to borrow James Beniger’s phrase): customer control (10). Described in economic terms LoMo was an LLC, following an ad-based funding model. The advertisements that were placed on the website were “targeted”, following processes similar to the ones that Nicholas Carr is describing: through specific word-tracing codes and making use of the data that users voluntarily disclosed, the advertisements were personified and directly addressed to each of the users, maximizing the possibility of attracting their interest (11).

    LoMo made a very dynamic start and thanks to its originality, contemporaneity and refined design, quickly caught the attention of the press. It was published in Glamour, the New York Times and Crain’s business magazine in Chicago. According to Josh Cotten, a two hour reference to LoMo at generated about 200 registered users, out of the total website’s 650 members and 20.000 visitors. In the effort to attract new users, LoMo took advantage of the predominant social networking tools, Facebook and Twitter. What is interesting to note here, is Jessica Lybeck’s implication that the reason for the website’s initial success was that offered a sense of social support, that popular social networks were unable to offer exactly due to their generic character. The cause-related nature of the website and its goal-based structure, created a differentiated social networking model which was tailored to the needs of a specific portion of the population.

    Layoff Moveon stayed an unfinished project. The website’s financial downturns, attributed mainly to the priority assigned to advertising over marketing campaigns, prevented the observation of the long term development and transformations of this creative alteration of the social networking paradigm. A “social support” network, taking personal stories as points of departure and turning them into collective narrations, encouraging at the same time assistance and collaboration. How would this website be transformed according to the development of the issue it negotiated? Would it eventually obtain an analogue in physical space, become a platform for organization and action, fade out and reemerge from time to time, following its creator’s initial visions? And if so, how would the collectivities formulated through this process interact with the “Spider’s Web”?


    (1). The website’s former address was The initial website’s idea currently only exists in blog form (
    (3). Quoted directly from LoMo’s Facebook profile
    (4). Jessica Lybeck interviewed by Iker Gill, of MasContext (
    (5). op.cit 3
    (6). op.cit 4
    (7). Carr, N., 2009. The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google, W. W. Norton & Company, Chapter 8: “A Spider’s Web”
    (8). op.cit 7 p. 203
    (9) op.cit 7, p. 190
    (10). op.cit 7, p. 195
    (11). op.cit 7, p. 205

  2. ricarose on September 24th, 2010

    Aviary: Online art community with free creation tools

    With a mission to “democratize creation”, Aviary is a free suite of online design and multimedia tools available to anyone with a web browser [1]. Its 8-piece toolset includes applications like an image editor, similar to Adobe’s Photoshop, a music creator, and a color editor. Additionally, Aviary is an online community, where users can share, collaborate, and remix each other’s work. And while it’s currently unavailable, the website will support a marketplace where users can buy and sell their work. With such free services, tools, and infrastructure, Aviary fits neatly into the gift economy, empowering anyone with a web browser to create and design. In return, Aviary willingly receives the gifts of contribution and free labor from its users. Furthermore, Aviary is drawing power away from software developers like Adobe that produce similar tools, and professionals that do this for a living. These cultural and economic implications make one wonder how much empowerment Aviary gives relative to how much power it receives in return.

    With its free suite of creation tools accessible with any Flash enabled web browser, Aviary challenges existing tools that are prohibitively expensive, difficult to use, or involve installation of hefty software. For example, Aviary’s toolset includes a vector graphics editor Raven, that while it doesn’t compete with Adobe Illustrator feature-by-feature, it provides enough functionality to perform essential editing tasks. Its online tools have also been designed with usability in mind so that artists can focus on their tasks at hand without stumbling through interface challenges. Finally, with its online community to freely share, review, and remix artwork, Aviary can be seen as a vehicle for the “long tail” of art production and access, enabling anyone with a browser to design, to access works of art, and to learn from and built on top of others’ work.

    While Aviary may empower the everyday Internet user, the ability for users to share their artwork online for anyone to use may accelerate the decreasing demand for creative professionals. While it still remains to be seen how Aviary users will sell their creations in the market place, if Aviary users make their work freely available or sell their pieces at low costs, customers will have fewer incentives to commission professionals to meet their creative needs. As Carr says, “why pay a professional to do something that an amateur is happy to do for free?” Finally, as Aviary users flood the site with their work, the relative quality of such work to the work of professionals, who have years of schooling and experience, is unknown. The content that Aviary enables may not only impoverish professionals but also the quality of creative content that is produced, contributing to the “culture of mediocrity” that Carr cautions.

    Like other websites such as deviantArt and Flickr that provide users the infrastructure and services to contribute content, Aviary benefits from the “sharecropping”, the free labor and content that its users produce. According to their Terms of Use, when users sell their artwork through the market place, Aviary may take a small commission. Additionally, users may own the artwork that they create, but any artwork they share and store on the website, Aviary has the right to feature the artwork anywhere within the site and to use it in materials that promote the website. In another section of their Terms of Use, any ideas, suggestions, and other content that users contribute in discussion forums are solely owned by Aviary. Such claims to ownership and conditions of use illustrate just some of the benefits that Aviary will reap as it continues to grow.

    Aviary is still a fairly new site. In 2008, they released an invitation only beta. With the support of private funders, they released their tools, services, and infrastructure for free in 2010, empowering an audience of creators. If Aviary becomes more widely used, there may be economic implications, as users move away from costly or unusable software and demand the services of creative professional less. As users freely and openly use Aviary, there are also questions as to what they may giving up in return, such as their ideas, their content, and how much Aviary is really benefiting from the free labor and contributions.

    [1] Aviary.

  3. kevin on September 24th, 2010

    Dropbox synchronizes your files. If you save a file into a Dropbox folder on a machine at work, you can access it home, or a friend your choose to share access with can open the file on their computer. Dropbox transparently synchronizes your files by keeping a copy of your Dropbox folder on their servers. It is also seemingly ubiquitous. At a recent talk given at MIT by Drew Houston, founder and CEO of Dropbox, a quick poll revealed that 100% of the roughly audience used the service.

    It’s difficult to relate Dropbox to Anderson’s article, “The Long Tail,” since it does not provide a wide array of products or services to a myriad of consumers in niche markets. Dropbox provides one service, and that service is simply synchronized online storage and file sharing. One feature that may be related to Anderson’s observations is Dropbox’s sharing feature[1]. Each user may share sub-folders within his Dropbox folder with other users, thus using up capacity on each, potentially paid, account but only requiring Dropbox to store the information once. By aggregating the long tail of sharing, Dropbox can provide online storage at a cost below that of more isolationist cloud storage technologies.

    Additionally, if we stretch Anderson’s theme of breaking the constraints of the physical world being one of the primary driving forces behind the commercial success of online technologies, we might also conclude that Dropbox is particularly successful because it is uniquely positioned to take over the role of its physically constrained cousin, the USB drive. Unlike a USB drive, a Dropbox folder does not have to be purchased from a physical retailer (or shipped form Amazon), and portions of it can transcend space to synchronize in real time between distant instantiations of itself.

    After reading Carr’s article, nearly all the feel-good thoughts I had about the freedom and power enabled by the Internet have been revisited and rethought. Carr presents the emergent effect of the web on society as the “World Wide Computer” and characterizes it as a way for governments and bureaucracies to efficiently expand their control the hearts and minds of the world’s population [2]. In the case of Dropbox, people are freely giving possibly highly valuable and private information to an online service without any qualms about how that information might be used if it fell into the wrong hands.

    Dropbox is private and encrypted, sharing your files with only those you explicitly specify, which lulls consumers into the mistakenly comfortable position where they are at ease with a service automatically putting all of their information online without thinking about who might see it. Through this lulling effect, the benign Dropbox service could easily act as a psychological gateway to less scrupulous services created by companies who’s interests lie beyond providing private file storage. Although I know of no such service in existence, it’s not such a stretch to speculate that there may soon be file sharing and synchronization services that offer free storage and convenient personalized file searches in exchange for showing targeted advertisements based on user-supplied content. This less scrupulous company might even extend the promise of privacy by obfuscating your information through aggregation, guaranteeing that statistics concerning your account will only be viewed in aggregate. However, in “A Spider’s Web” [3], Carr reveals how even the slightest scraps of information scavenged and reconstituted from the far reaches of the Internet might be used to readily peel back the layers of privacy relied upon by so many as a security blanket.

    Ultimately, Dropbox is spearheading the market of ubiquitous online information, removing the limits of storage from all those who are currently burdened by it.


    [2] Anderson p. 209 – “History tells us that the most powerful tools for managing the processing and flow of information will be placed in the hands not of ordinary citizens but of businesses and governments. It is their interest – the interest of control – that will ultimately guide the progress and the use of the World Wide Computer.”

  4. Jiye Baek on September 24th, 2010

    @Susan “Wow! I’m gonna go to #Paris this #Thanksgiving!!”

    Susan was so excited that she was going to go to Paris this Thanksgiving, so she tweeted right after she bought her plane ticket. After she checked her friends’ feedback, she also mention that she would be back in a week.

    This is a typical conversation between friends. But doesn’t she know that by making this tweet she opens herself up to the chance of being robbed?

    Before, and even still now, we care about disclosing our personal information. Even asking a person about what he or she does for a living can be considered bad manners. If an website uses our information which we gave to them when we joined the site, it could be sued. But, when it comes to Twitter, it became a totally different story. People sometimes don’t want to share their story of how they spent the weekend even to the co-worker who sits next them, but they feel comfortable about telling everything about themselves on Twitter. On Twitter, it’s not that they take control over our information, but we voluntarily ‘give’ them it (Carr, A Spider’s Web).

    But, why has all this happened?

    The basic mechanics of Twitter are remarkably simple. Users publish tweets – those 140 character messages – from a computer or mobile device. All my tweets of thought and information are open to public. In conventional media few publishers’ opinions are shared restrictively, but in the Twitter world all users can be publishers. And their tweet is broadcast through infinite network even faster than a conventional media (like earthquake information..). In other words, it is a speedy spreading Memedia. Don’t even go to the conventional media, it’s speed is much faster than blogs. It expands the tail of Media (Anderson, Long tail).

    This power of Twitter came from openness. In fact, this was a motto of the Internet’s first developers, but we have been used to Internet in an environment of many extra features of regulation or realname system. Also writing on the Internet was usually restricted only to friends or someone who was qualified if the writing was to be open to the public (at the time it was thought that a blogger ought to be a good writer). In this environment we focused more on fragmentary knowledge rather than a basic delight of having a relationship or interaction with others.

    And Here is a Twitter.

    Many people have been mentioned that they could feel purity and delight with Twitter just like when the first PC communication came out. I think this kind of feeling is a “purity of a new technology”. Then, why has the “purity of a new technology” come out? It’s because there is a chance to make their own culture by community members before the paradigm of new technology has settled down. As they are not familiar in the new environment, it’s hard to make a clear definition. So, users make their own rules by trial and error.

    This “purity of a new technology” was applied to Twitter users too. They are interacting with others with ‘Purity’, broke away from familiar way of thinking and attitude on existing technology. They feel positive to each other with an open mind and a expectation of new experience. And this positive attitude to each other is becoming a part of Twitter Culture and continuously provides Purity and Delight to newcomers. This is why I think Twitter users open and share their information cheerfully, without worries.

  5. dsengeh on September 24th, 2010

    Kiva is an organization with a mission “to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty” ( Kiva is unique from other microfinance organizations because it uses the web ( to carry out its mission. Through its “field partners”, Kiva populates its website with stories, images and data unique to each village and each family member who will be impacted by the loans taken by the entrepreneurs. This information is then made available to “Kiva lenders.” After the “Kiva lender” browses the large spread of stories and business ideas of entrepreneurs from around the world, he/she decides which loan request they would like to fund. At the end of a given cycle, entrepreneurs repay the loans with interest to the “field partners” (the interest is used to cover the expenses of the “field partners”). The original amount loaned out is repaid to Kiva by the “field partners” and Kiva makes the money available to the “Kiva lenders” who could choose to withdraw their money, donate it to Kiva or re-lend to other entrepreneurs.

    In Chris Anderson’s article, “The Long Tail”, he suggests that a major factor that leads to the long tail phenomenon is access to “unlimited selection” by consumers. Kiva’s model of allowing stories and entrepreneurship ideas, not geographically or culturally bounded, allows the lender to have an unlimited selection of ideas to support. This implies that people who would otherwise not lend to big microfinance institutions because they do not know what programs that were being sponsored (for example, a catholic priest would not lend money to support an idea that involved contraception) could now choose specific individuals and projects to sponsor.

    At the same time, one can imagine that the long tail could be the almost unlimited access to loans for entrepreneurs who meet a specific and credible standard set by Kiva and the “field partners.” Originally, only lenders who were locally situated within the entrepreneurs’ locality or those who had affiliations with bigger and more bureaucratic microfinance institutions were available to entrepreneurs. However, with the Kiva web technology platform, the source of possible income is boundless which spurs creativity and possibly, economic advancement for the loan recipients and their communities.

    The Kiva model allows the stories, names, images, dates, and more personal data to be put on the profiles of entrepreneurs. This is something Carr addresses in his book “The Big Switch” as he develops the idea of privacy and the control of personal information on the web. However, people are much more likely to give/lend money to other people who they can relate or have a relationship with. Lending not only becomes easier in a “Spider’s Web” as money can be pushed and pulled around more easily within the network (for example, a group of friends or family members supporting the same entrepreneurs), but the more the lender has confidence in the Kiva entrepreneur the better. This confidence can be increased by the provision of as much information as possible from the entrepreneur- something that would not have been possible without the web and a platform like As Carr observes and from accounts of entrepreneurs and lenders using the Kiva platform, users do not mind that their information are all up on the web.

    In summary, offers a technological platform, which not only gives a long tail for lenders who can access an unlimited amount of stories and ideas to fund, but it also offers entrepreneurs an unlimited opportunity to be funded by lenders from all over the world. The economic benefits by this technology are well recorded as Kiva reports a loan amount of 162 million USD through its platform. On another note, privacy is something which has to be forgone in order for the platform to achieve what its mission is; which is based on creating a network of interconnected people who push and pull resources and information around the world. Ironically however, Kiva is not very straightforward with how its system works as they have been accused to not send the money directly from the “Kiva lender” to a specific “Kiva entrepreneur”( This is important because their success is based on this minute detail.

  6. dhill24 on September 24th, 2010

    Online banking is a trend that has been on a steady incline for years now. It allows users to edit account information, monitor transactions, and pay bills, quickly and easily from any location with internet access. In an effort to “Go Green” and ultimately save time and money, most online banks have decided to go “paperless.” Once given permission by the customer, these banks will no longer send financial statements via regular mail. All correspondences are handled electronically.

    While online banking is no new technology, it has become increasingly popular in recent years and during the recession, as individuals and businesses try to cut budgets and improve efficiency in any ways possible. Unfortunately, as it has saved so many people time and money, it has simultaneously been one of the contributors to some very serious problems for the United States Postal Service. These problems will have national economic effects, causing employees to lose jobs, and they will also change American culture indefinitely. The negative consequences of online banking support Nicholas Carr’s argument in The Big Switch when he states, “Computerization creates new work, but it’s work that can be done by machines. People aren’t necessary.” Now, with online banking, electronic notifications, and other “paperless” technologies gaining popularity, the need for post offices and postal workers is diminishing. The time of people expecting there to be a post office in every neighborhood is quickly coming to an end.

    The economic effects of post office closures are horrifying. In The Big Switch, Nicholas Carr discusses the newspaper industry and how employment dropped by 13% over six years due to the rising popularity of online newspapers. The same trend can be seen in the United States Postal Service. Already thousands of postal workers have been terminated, and with more post offices scheduled to close this year, even more postal workers will be released. Massive closings of post offices mark a great change in American culture. The reality is that people are not sending regular mail as frequently now as in the past. In order to deal with this crisis the USPS has raised the price of stamps, cut employee work hours, adjusted carrier routes, and adjusted post office hours of operation.

    Online banking also offers an example of the “Long Tail” discussed by Chris Anderson. Online bankers are given the freedom to control and edit a wide range of options; such as personal information, account information for multiple accounts, and transaction information; from one location online. Many of these services use e-mail notifications to alert users of account activity and due dates. This convenience has attracted many users to online banking and “paperless” transactions. Online bankers are supplied with a seemingly unlimited supply of mobile options that proves to be much more efficient than the old way of banking.

    Though online banking has presented customers with a convenient and efficient means by which to manage accounts and pay bills, it has been one of the key contributors to the United States Postal Service’s struggles. For years now, the USPS has consistently registered losses, and it has now reached a point where they are being forced to lay off employees and close locations by the thousands. Now, these laid off employees must seek unemployment, and Americans must get comfortable with the notion of not having post offices in their neighborhoods. With there being no signs of a future decrease in online banking users and “paperless” organizations, this negative trend for the USPS is likely to continue. This is just another example of internet-based technology overtaking “old-line firms that have long employed and paid decent wages to many people.”

  7. Sayamindu Dasgupta on September 24th, 2010

    The BitTorrent protocol

    BitTorrent is an Internet protocol which allows users to share files with each other, without the need for a centralized mechanism or infrastructure. It is not the only “peer to peer” network protocol – but what makes it one of the most popular is the way it tries to take advantage of the concept of “Pareto efficiency”, an optimization model where “peers reciprocate [by] uploading to peers which upload to them, with the goal of at any time of having several connections which are actively transferring in both directions”¹. This kind of “tit-for-tat model” ensures that BitTorrent users are forced to upload (share) more, instead of simply “leeching” off others.

    Within a short space of a few years, BitTorrent, with it’s decentralized architecture has turned into the traditional content provider’s nightmare. The entertainment industry is up in arms, claiming that they are losing millions, if not billions of dollars due to the illegal sharing of their copyrighted material via BitTorrent and other p2p protocols. The Internet is literally flooded with BitTorrent traffic, with some analysts calculating that it accounts for a quarter of the total data being transmitted over the Internet. When the BlockBuster, the popular DVD rental store chain shut down its operations in Portugal in early 2010, industry associations were quick to point out illegal p2p file-sharing as being one of the culprits. The entertainment industry in the US and in other countries have sent countless cease and desist letters to various BitTorrent trackers (index sites), and have often resorted to litigation to shut many of them down. In recent years, the “war” has got even uglier, with the industry suing individuals, and pleading for exemplary punishments to serve as deterrent for file-sharing.

    In context of the chapter “From the Many to the Few” by [Carr], the community of filesharers using BitTorrent may be an instance of the “gift economy”. (It is extremely rare for a tracker website to have a significant revenue stream as advertisers are reluctant to advertise on them.) The effect of this gift economy has been major disruptions in the way the traditional entertainment industry works. The old model of distributing content is being ripped apart, causing the middlemen (the distributors and the suppliers) to lose their jobs.

    In the past year or so, some members of the industry have started to recognize this, and have started to use BitTorrent as a legitimate way of content distribution. Used in this way, BitTorrent can significantly reduce the pressure on the content distributors’ network infrastructure, as the load is offloaded to the users themselves. As an example, The World of Warcraft, an extremely popular game is distributed via a BitTorrent based technology. With this type of model though, Carr’s “From the Many to the Few” arguments (especially the sharecropping metaphor) again becomes valid, as the “Few” get a free ride on the “Many”‘s bandwidth.

    One significant disadvantage of BitTorrent arises from it’s peer to peer architecture. The “downloadability” of any file/torrent is determined by its popularity. If only a few people are interested in a particular file, it becomes difficult to download. This works against the long tail principle put forward by [Anderson]. However, I feel that the long tail in BitTorrent do exist, in a slightly different fashion. The traditional avenues of content distribution (especially movies) are very localized, usually being restricted to a few countries. As an example, when HBO aired the film “Vanilla Sky” in India, a few movie enthusiasts became interested in the film it was based on – “Abre los ojos” by the Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar. There was no way in India to see it, except for asking someone abroad to ship a DVD (a considerably expensive undertaking), or downloading it via BitTorrent. In this case, BitTorrent exposed access to a slightly different kind of long tail – a tail that is created by the artificial boundaries content companies choose to impose on it consumers.

    BitTorrent is controversial. It is changing the way content distribution works, and some say at too large a cost. But it is also bringing access to many. Perhaps it represents a fundamental shift in our culture, like the printing press was (the printing press also made it easier to copy). Whether the price for this shift is worth paying or not remains a question.

    [1] Cohen, B. 2003. Incentives build robustness in bitorrent. In Proceedings of the 1st Workshop on Economics of Peer-to-Peer Systems
    [2] BitTorrent: The “one third of all Internet traffic” Myth – retrieved from

  8. H on September 24th, 2010

    Quora, a “continually improving collection of questions and answers, created, edited, and organized by everyone” is steadily accumulating market share in the knowledge creation economy only 9 months after its private beta debut. Its superior design and social network enabled focus on the people who build its primary asset, accurate answers to a wide variety of questions, is leading the next generation of so-called crowd-sourcing tools. The young startup, founded by early Facebook alums, raised more than $10 million in funding in spite of the crowded question and answer space.

    If knowledge is indeed power then Quora is empowering individuals, at least those with an internet connection and awareness of the service, with valuable information and perhaps most importantly, a direct channel to create or organize new knowledge based on questions. In a world where Wolfram Alpha is solving computational knowledge problems for researchers and Google is indexing the manifold services that publish old and evolving information, Quora acts as a shared brain for old or brand new questions and answers. Its collaboratively accumulated and hyper organized database can be tied back to existing facts and data or even better yet, provide unique human conceived and centered problems and solutions tied to user’s Facebook or other public profiles. Quara is wiki from heaven where people wear nametags.

    In many ways the service is a much better designed and modern hybrid version of Yahoo Answers and Aardvark, the human network search engine (founded by personal search guru Sep Kamvar) and acquired by Google. Quora has a very high signal to noise ratio due to its quality network of early adopters (primarily skewed towards the tech industry, perhaps its biggest weakness) and clear design that connects questions and answers back to individuals and then allow those users to target topics, and collaborate on answers to continually improve what ultimately becomes a “reusable accumulated knowledge” center.

    Quora is a classic example of an innovation that benefits from, and in turn supplies, the Long Tail. Chis Anderson redefined the Long Tail, a seminal Wired magazine articled that evolved into a best selling book, as an economic model in which a larger share of the data falls within the tail compared to a standard Gaussian distribution. This effect is observed globally, but particularly in the entertainment and media industries, due to market forces present and growing in the twenty-first century. The internet allows for some resources to be ubiquitous and available at vastly discounted prices. The information ecology, taste and need based tribes previously spread all over the world but now connected through the internet, and improved search and market clearing mechanisms, has irrevocably changed how and who sells goods and services. More people, individuals and startups it was originally hoped though now primarily behemoths like Apple and Amazon, can now sell “more of less”. Quora can answer critically important or even bizarre and low-volume questions and answers in one central place. Due to its social layer people with shared interests or individuals with very specific questions or knowledge sets that may have been isolated in another age can connect and learn together. Users have free and immediate access and can ask an unlimited number of questions with or without answering questions themselves. This leads to an explosive reaction sped up by personal reputation incentives and halted only by time and energy.

    Nicholas Carr writes, in The Big Switch, how new technologies have transformed society. He argues that technology transitions, such as electric grids for example, lead to an initial period of instability and income inequality but eventually as the technology spreads towards mainstream adoption society at large benefits. Carr cautions with the example of the rag to riches tail of the Youtube founders and others that the computer and software revolution may not lead to greater prosperity as evidenced by the extreme and focussed wealth that has thus far been created at the expense of displaced jobs and disrupted industries left in the wake of silicon cables. Carr may argue that Quora users are labouring for free only to build an asset that will be sold to the highest bidder to enrich the lucky few founders. Though the founders could one day earn a tidy sum for their innovative service we all benefit far more from the accrued and knowledge and forum to shed light on the unknown.

    Yochai Benkler, a Professor at Harvard Law School and researcher at the Berkman Center, analyzes the explosion in social production and the forces that lead to it. In a 2006 blogosphere conversation Carr criticized Benkler’s peer production research. The challenge led to a well natured wager now known as the Carr-Benkler wager in which Benkler believes that “by 2011 the major sites will have content provided by volunteers in what Benkler calls commons-based peer production, as in Wikipedia, reddit, Flickr and YouTube. Carr argues that the trend will favor content provided by paid workers, as in most traditional news outlets.” It would be unwise to call the wager early but the cutting vanguard innovation, free services, and exponential increase in catalogued data unleashed by paid and volunteer workers is a boon for every day consumers.

    The ultimate effect of this unprecedented and ever increasing force on the world economy and our well being cannot be foreseen. Carr writes in The Big Switch that “[i]n a YouTube economy everyone is free to play, but only a few reap the rewards.” That may be true if we assume rewards are only measured in monetary terms. In a Google, Quora, Etsy, Firefox, Ubuntu, Iridium, WebMD, Kiva and Apple economy everyone benefits from a great selection of goods and services, improved at breakneck speeds, and delivered at lower prices.

    Anderson, C., 2004. The Long Tail. Wired, 12(10).
    Carr, N., 2009. The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google, W. W. Norton & Company. Chapter 7: From the Many to the Few, Chapter 8: The Great Unbundling, Chapter 10: A Spider’s Web
    Optional Readings
Benkler, Y. (2007), The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, Yale University Press.

  9. marferrer on September 24th, 2010

    I am interested in discussing how SOUNDCLOUD is an example of the endeavor of going further than most web-based free media streamers. In this case it is an audio hosting service providing the user with an internet platform, electronic tools, features and other services (increasing number of applications).Those elements enable users to share and discover music and other media content. It is a sort of drop box for music, taking profit of a peer-to-peer network that follows the creative commons licensing system. It has a clean interface with no advertisement and no files size limitations but only a dashboard/workspace with uploaded tracks in waveform, one’s contacts and applications. What is more, the user has the possibility to embed a SoundCloud drop box in any of his other web sites/services such as blog, social network or webpage. It is also compatible with online stores such as allowing the profitability of user’s creations.

    I will deal with the analysis of this webpage from two perspectives. First of all, I will start with the origins of SoundCloud and its cultural implications. I will contrast the success of SoundCloud against Chris Anderson argument in the Long Tail; by which those businesses would not work if not streaming popular and already familiar content (assimilated to hits in Anderson’s vocabulary). SoundCloud focuses only on the niche markets and does fairly well. Next, I will unravel the striking differences between SoundCloud and other media hostage providers by trying to understand the interest of their business model. I will focus on their role as providers of an alternative “embedded bureaucracy of copy left” through their integration of creative commons licensing. What is valued and paid in this case is the degree of privacy and customization (versus space or marketing services).

    SoundCloud is a Berlin-based start-up founded in 2007, mostly and primarily intended for the use of professionals of music as a response to the problem of moving around uncompressed large files. Before, the options for sending large audio files were either e-mailing, large file transmission sites, or clunky FTPs. There were not any really elegant solutions for public distribution. Thus, this website offers for the first time a very useful service for “emerging musicians” that need to share their music privately (between band members, producers or A&R executives). Also it allows the distribution publicly if artists want to have access to fans and make a living out of their work. The location of this company, Berlin, is far from trivial. It is known that the most vibrant counter culture nowadays is happening in this city, particularly in what concerns electronic music. SoundCloud offers this way an access to the exciting electronic Berlin scene in a digital venue. What is more, competitions, meetings and contest are launched on the site involving interest sharing and encouraging people creativity allowing or better empowering them with means of re-mixing; re-creating content. We will investigate this further in the next paragraph. The point of this first perspective is to disagree with the statement made by Chris Anderson talking about the failure of because they had only focus on one end of the tail, he states: “the problem with was that it was only Long Tail … it shows that you need both ends of the curve”. In the case of SoundCloud it allows just user generated content so it is obviously just Long Tail and it has been successful from the beginning with more than 100,000 registered users in 2009. Also, it raised €2.5 million ($3.3 million) in its first round of funding. What is the competitive advantage offered by SoundCloud that makes it so successful despite of not having the hook of hits? That is what we will try to answer next.

    The originality of the service offered by SoundCloud is that it provides a bureaucratic service (taking Nicolas Carr’s terms and assimilation of computation with bureaucracy [1]) embedded in the distribution, the attachment of a license to your product. Before, this service had to be done apart and was controlled and centralized by institutions: we still can go to and have a patent onto a product. SoundCloud includes this service in the streaming. It even takes a page from Flickr’s book on licensing. Rather than navigating the murky landscape of digital media licensing/collaboration, SoundCloud lets file owners choose the type of licensing for their work released. They offer four types of creative commons licensing, Attribution (by), Share Alike (sa), Non-Commercial (nc) and Non-Derivative Works (nd) and those, just for free and for any user.

    What is striking about this hostage server is that it does not impose limits on the size of the files and it provides a very clean, elegant, and free from ads interface. Where is then the business? SoundCloud is aimed at encouraging creativity to a professional or semi-professional degree. At first, the niche market is those audio artists who have difficulty to move and distribute their music. Hence the paid service offered is an upgrade in privacy and customization. That is to say, artists may want to keep track of their music with statistics, sharing privately messages and immediate streaming with groups of people (list of professional contacts), know the public acceptance of their music…They may also want a more personal space in order to gain more popularity or just be more encompassed with their own style.

    We have then seen an example of a web-based service that uses only the long tail of the curve and has had a successful feedback contrary to Anderson’s belief. It is also remarkable the originality of embedding a bureaucratic service under another service: licensing along the way with distribution. This results in a hook for a more professionalized audience/target that will be the one with a need of privacy and customization willing to invest in a clean and elegant service for their work. Thus the paid services provided (as premium users) offer those two elements contrary to file size or the use of classified advertisement. In the same run it offers amateurs new tools empowering their creativity through re-creation /re-mixing.[2]

    [1] Carr discusses in the The Big Switch the consequences of the transfer or shifting of control from a centralized power to an individual power. As he argues, bureaucratic tasks are perfectly suited for a computer “the very structure of bureaucracy is reflected in the functions of a computer”. “A computer gathers information”…, “records information”…, “imposes formal rules and procedures on its users”…, “and communicates information.” An example directly applicable here will be the use of the Creative Common Licensing system by SoundCloud.

    [2] See Lawrence Lessig Talk on Laws that choke Creativity

  10. Jie on September 25th, 2010


    Reddit is a free social website built around collaboratively recommending web content using a user-voted ranking system. Users pull interesting but often obscure and/or extremely new material from all over the internet and present it to be judged by other users using an “up” and “down” voting system, thus ranking the content. Reddit then displays the posts by ranking, with the highest rated post at the top of the front page. The same voting system also applies to comments on posts; popular comments are placed right below the main article while less popular comments may not be displayed at all. Posts are grouped by topic into hundreds of user-created “subreddit” threads. While there are a few moderators, the community is largely self-regulated through a “karma” system where an “upvote” gives the original poster a positive karma and a “downvote” does the opposite. Using such simple rules, Reddit has developed an extremely large and thriving community of users who are aggregating to create change both on the web and in the physical community.

    The greatest example of its influence is when users pulled together and using the influence of small actions by an enormous number of individuals, managed to convince Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart to hold rallies in Washington as a satirical response to Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor Rally. To prove their seriousness with the campaign as well as the potential influence of the Reddit community, users donated over $100,000.00 in 24 hours to, a charity counseled by Stephen Colbert. The success of this campaign proves that individuals and groups of users online are no longer isolated from the mainstream, the “in real life” world. While the many supporters of this campaign were geographically and culturally isolated individuals, they were able to break such barriers and organize effectively offline, a feat that is difficult to perform even for individuals located within the same geographic community.

    By basing itself on user-generated content and ranking systems, Reddit is a good example of technology that successfully employs Anderson’s “long tail.” Since the site is structured entirely on a ranking system, its main function is to recommend content to other users based on what is accepted by the community. Users can choose to browse “blockbuster” content by going to the main page or go into more unique topics through subreddits. Users are self-organized into subreddits so that there is indeed a niche for everyone. They are even encouraged to create more subreddits so that the niches are constantly increasing in number and thus the website is reaching further down the long tail. With virtually no size limitations, Reddit presents as much information as users may want. With no geographic bounds users with unique interests can easily aggregate, making obscure topics more popular and effectively increasing he overall demand for that particular type of content (shifting the curve upward).

    Reddit is especially unique in that it its voting system puts equal weight to every user’s vote, and has mechanisms in place to prevent “power users” from monopolizing the top posts. In this way, it promotes new users and unique content from all users (not just popular, or wealthy, ones). The website also strives to maintain a strong and trusting relationship with its community. As with many example companies in Carr’s reading, though Reddit gets tens of millions of page views a day, it is is officially run by only four developers who work under the publishing giant Conde Nast. However, because the developing team is so small, it has managed to maintain a very tight relationship with its community, even running free advertisements for a campaign that was supported by most users but not allowed by Conde Nast (presumably due to political reasons). As a result, Reddit users are far more loyal to this website, knowing that its developers are producing very largely with its users as priority and profit as secondary concern.

    Using this business model of using four programmers to run an extremely dynamic website using as few ads as possible, Reddit had actually (but not surprisingly) suffered from lack of revenue. However, in recent months it enacted a subscription program and, ironically with very few subscription benefits (such as previews of updates), Reddit managed to get enough subscribers to support itself. The mechanism behind this shift was largely due to Reddit users who simply want to donate to maintain the website, not caring about exclusive features from free reddit accounts.

    Due to user loyalty to Reddit, the developing team decided to open its site to users by making the entire website transparent and open source through the subreddit “Fixxit”, which allows user to fix and update bugs in the Reddit code. Open sourcing Reddit both gives users a sense of power and trust, knowing exactly how the website ranks for example, which further strenthens the relationship and dissolves the difference between user and developer. This proves that with social, user-generated websites it is truly the community that is most important, and for the business, the relationship between the company and its user community is most essential to the point where the company becomes part of the community.

  11. ed on September 27th, 2010

    kickstarter (I know it was the example but it’s just so relevant) -

    Kickstarter[1] is a website designed specifically to allow users to fund or receive funding for creative projects. Users sign up by providing an email address and creating a password or by signing in through Facebook Connect. Once signed up, the user may back (fund) any number of Kickstarter projects or may request the ability to post a project for funding. The fact that users have to request the ability to post projects is a way to ensure that projects fit the overall creativie vision of the site[2]. People will theoretically fund projects for any reason, but central to the site is the idea of pledging in order to receive rewards, and project creators can create any number of rewards available to pledgers of specific monetary amounts. While this might be reminiscent of the rewards offered for pledging during telethons, Kickstarter is more about commerce than philanthropy and projects that provide rewards more appropriate for the amount pledged are apparently more likely to succeed[3]. Every Kickstarter project has a funding goal and an end date and all funding and rewards are all-or-nothing. This means that if a project fails to reach it’s funding goal by the end date, the project creator does not receive any money and will not be expected to complete the project or provide any rewards to backers. Project creators are encouraged to promote their projects though their own social networks and to encourage their backers to do the same[4]. Kickstarter’s business model is set up to benefit when it’s project creators succeed as it receives a commission of five percent of all successful projects’ pledges.

    There are many interesting cultural and economic implications of the Kickstarter website and community. Culturally, Kickstarter helps to promote creativity by helping creative people engage with audiences that are excited to help them move their projects along. Economically, Kickstarter can be seen as aggregating demand for a wide range of projects even before those projects have been fully developed or even begun, helping to increase the length of the “Long Tail” described in the Chris Anderson article of the same name. While Kickstarter allows project creators to distribute digital media and physical goods to backers, the idea is that these projects will only be on the site for a “kick-start” and will eventually add to the long tail of art, technology, media, and cultural projects that are being offered in the world wide web’s ever increasing catalog of consumable culture. The site also helps to mitigate the risk for project creators by allowing them to gauge demand before necessarily making significant monetary or time investments of their own. In this way, Kickstarter is poised to both grow and exploit the long tail by encouraging and insuring project creation and by profiting through the aggregation of many successful projects, even if each project raises a relatively small amount of money.

    But interestingly enough, project creators are also able to exploit the implications of the long tail. Considering the fact that one can create an unlimited number of rewards for backers of different pledge amounts, project creators in effect have “infinite shelf space”[5] to offer a large variety of rewards, none of which has to be popular enough for the project to reach its funding goal. Some rewards are unpopular by design, as many projects have limited rewards, either because of scarcity, or to increase their value, or both. For example, the creator of a film project may offer to name a backer as an “Executive Producer” if they pledge a significant amount. Only one or two of these credits is usually offered because it is not customary to have more than a few executive producers listed in the credits of a motion picture, and because the project creator would not be able to charge as much if anyone could claim that title. But project creators can aggregate pledges for many such rewards and this allows them to exploit the “long tail” of many possible rewards.

    Another interesting implication is that Kickstarter is essentially profiting from user generated content just as described by Nicholas Carr in “From the Many to the Few” from his book, “The Big Switch.” Kickstarter project creators have the talent, and for the most part, they bring their own audience. Project creators add significant value to Kickstarter just by posting a project and with every update or new backer they introduce to the site. While Kickstarter has hundreds, if not thousands, of current projects, they only list about a dozen members of the Kickstarter team[6]. But unlike Carr’s scenario of user generated content replacing actual jobs, Kickstarter seems to offer the opportunity for more people to uncover their passion and to find an audience that is willing to support them while following it. If not a creative utopia, at least it seems more balanced than Carr’s dystopian predictions. While Carr describes the founders of YouTube giddily thanking their users for essentially giving their company billions of dollars, it seems more likely that successful Kickstarter project creators would be thanking the Kickstarter team for making their dreams a reality. As long as Kickstarter only takes five percent of a successful project’s pledges, it stands to reason that Kickstart will only be in business if it can continue to help others get started too.


  12. mikecsy on October 7th, 2010

    There were no rules in the Wild West. Some sought gold, others sought life. Amidst opportunity, there was also danger. Although they dreamt of a better life in the West, many ended up worse off than back East. While there is no more land to conquer, the social media realm provides digital spaces to be conquered. And although there is great hype surrounding its potential use, social media may pose dangers as well. In its early stages, it could be too early to tell what its dangers may be. Hence, this seemingly democratized form of media must be seen with a wary eye if we are to brace ourselves for both the advantages and disadvantages that social media is capable of providing.
    As Anderson (2004) mentioned in The Long Tail, the long tail is exposing elements that have not been observable in conventional media. The occasional dancing monkey trained by an ordinary person would appear on local evening news, but never have users been empowered to express themselves as today. For example, YouTube is impacting areas of talent and science. Unicyclists are able to share their newly learnt tricks online, which others would try to practice and share as well. New tricks are uploaded, and other users come up with other creative aspects of unicycling and share them through YouTube. The unicycle community is now a popular, rapidly growing community. Another example is the scientific community and their use of video-sharing social media. Recently, scientists have started uploading their research methods on video-sharing social media. What would once take multiple pages to explain on research papers are now explained with detail through a few minutes of video. Text-based social media such as Twitter have also been influencing the world in different ways. A famous example is that of the recent Iranian election demonstrations appropriately dubbed the “Twitter revolution”. Physical flash mobs were created through Twitter communication to demonstrate against the flawed election results, and users uploaded comments, pictures, and videos of brutal government treatment towards demonstrations that conventional media were not able to broadcast.
    Despite the positive impact of social media, recent development reveals certain aspects to be wary about. The sudden boom of social media has taken interest of firms, and social media are becoming corporatized rapidly. YouTube was bought by Google and now pursues money-making initiatives such as pay-per-view movies and shows. Another famous social media site, Facebook, is itself a major company now, with its founder Mark Zuckerberg being in the Forbes Richlist. Facebook now focuses on how user information can become monetized, and their open API is used more by firms for money rather than for user innovation. Under these conditions, users have neither say nor empowerment. Hence, a form of corporate dictatorship is beginning to form shape in the social media realm.
    So what does this mean? With corporations having access to user information, much danger arises. First, corporations may be able to “sell” users based on their personal information and preferences. Another social danger is the misuse of this data by ordinary users. New forms of stalkers and criminals are already using social media to prey on their victims. For example, the new locative features of Foursquare and Twitter allow virtually anyone with access to the Web to be able to follow you (or prey on where you are not at).
    These are just the start of problems that are arising due to the impact of social media. There may just be a day when the front page of the newspaper will say “Twitter Serial Killer on the Loose”. Therefore, practitioners, academics, policy makers, and more importantly, ordinary users, must focus more energy on directing social media for the betterment of humanity. Because, after all, human tendencies tend to persist even in the digital realm.

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