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without analysis there's no reason to play.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Blogging as a p2p medium/Blogging and Work: pt2

I've been meaning to write about Sarni's Anonymity and Identity post for a while now. I've avoided commenting until now because of two reasons: I felt I didn't have a meaningful contribution to make, and even if I did, I felt unentitled. The fact that I've spent the last half-hour or so deliberating how to word this post, indicates that I still feel the latter, though not so much of the former.

I spent Saturday at the Northern Territory Library, reading The Anarchist in the Library, largely due to this post at Weatherall's Law, and the enjoyment I felt from reading some of Lessig's works. The book is by Siva Vaidhyanathan of www.sivacracy.net fame, and discusses amongst other ideas, the effect that technology and culture have on one another.

One of my favorite ideas in the book is that ideologies are embedded in technology. For example, television embodies a set of ideologies - the right to know, fame, obscenity - and these ideologies are spread with the adoption of the technology. Siva argues that while these ideologies must exist in the culture initially, in order for the adoptation of technology to take place, widespread technological adoption increases the prominence of these ideologies in society. He then continues to discuss the ideologies implied by peer to peer filesharing services.

Here is where it got really interesting. Many of the ideologies that Siva links with p2p filesharing are implicit in other p2p technologies as well; I kept thinking of blogging. The ideology Siva pointed out which seems relavent to the ongoing dicussions about Blogging and Work is the assumption that "obscurity mimics anonymity" (Siva 2004).

Having had some experience in the p2p filesharing world, I know this assumption holds relatively true there. The peer to peer technology that I have been most accustomed to over the last two years is Direct Connect. The Direct Connect software/protocol combines two main features: a filesharing feature, and a chatting feature. In the communities that develop around the "hubs" that runs the server-side software, there are three ways to rise in prominence.

The first is to share more files. As a general rule, the more data a user has shared, measured in total storage space shared, the more likely it is that that user has something you want. Hence, people are more likely to have a look at your filelist first, and more likely to be nice to you/chat to you. The last effect is due largely to the ability of any of the end-users to blacklist any other end-user. People are generally nicer to you if you've got a lot of files, simply because there's a large opportunity cost if they get blacklisted - they won't have access to a lot of files.

The second is to be an System Operator (or Sysop). While as a rule, DC hubs like to have ample conversation and tend to encourage free speech, there are always those who behave inappropriately. Sysops moderate the chat channel, and try and stop more obnoxious and unproductive types of behaviour. Spamming the channel, using profane langauge, verbally (well textually) abusing other users of the hub, typing in ALL CAPS, are the sort of behaviours generally not condoned, which users will usually cop a kick (they are disconnected from the channel) or a temp. ban (they are disconnected and their IP address banned for a short duration) for. Since sysops have to use their own discresion in deciding what constitutes offensive behaviour, people are also generally nice to sysops. Directing personal attacks towards a person with the power to remove you from the channel is generally not a good idea; conversely, getting a few brownie points with the sysops can't hurt either.

The third is to be popular. Since Direct Connect contains an inherent chat medium, users will sometimes gain the respect of others through saying intelligent things (rarely) or funny things (a whole lot more common). Not only do these users tend to have good relations with the sysops, but also they're generally well liked. This means that people tend to be nice to them also.

Notice that I didn't mention a forth option - to be the person running the hub. Direct Connect uses both peer to peer and client-server to do its work. Client-server is used for public chat and searching, whilst p2p is used for actually transferring the files. In order for the client-server implementation to work, the needs to be a server. Now a server does not need to be an especially fast machine, nor does the person running the server have to do anything that really interfers with his own machine. All a computer needs to do in order to become a server is to be running a background server process (generally called a daemon), be connected to a network, and be turned on. The reason this forth option is not included, is that the person actually running the hub can pretty well be as prominent or obscure as they like. However, this relates to the three options above. Aside from the IP address of the server, there is no identifier to mark you as the owner of the hub. So unless the hub owner decides to share more files, become a sysop or is able to become popular, he'll remain relatively obscure. On the DC hub that I used, this was exactly what happened. Only a handful of people knew who actually ran the hub; the rest immediately assumed that it was run by the sysop with the most data shared. So while the owner of the hub didn't really make an attempt at hiding his identity, through obscurity, he was able to remain largely anonymous.

How does this relate to Sarni's post? Well, I think I've always subconsciously believed in the idea that "obscurity mimics anonymity". My line of thinking was that since I am, and should remain, relatively obscure, I was largely free to blog as I wished. I was content to use my blog as a medium through which to convey myself; to project myself to others through my writing. The problem is that where anonymity is most wanted is exactly the same place where obscurity as a defense is weakest. That is to say, that the people most likely to have the largest influence on your life are the very same people will most likely have to motivation to dig under the surface. Not that I've tried overly hard to be anonymous. By putting Monash Eng/Law student majoring in Chemical Engineering together, you'd narrow down possible options soon enough.

Anyway, already I'm finding the Aussie Blawging world to be a little too small for obscurity to offer any pretense of anonymity. The realisation yesterday that a person who reads my blog works at my dream firm (the firm where I'd most like to work) sent my mind reeling. It also made me realise, that I, starting the third year of a six year degree, have such a very long road to follow.

Really, I should stay away from sitemeter and APNIC.net whois stats. That's a bad 3rd year Eng/Law student: bad! Ah, what I'd give for the bliss of ignorance.


Blogger sarni said...

Good post, very interesting ideas... I do find it a bit surprising that you already have a 'dream firm'! I guess you're a little more forward-planning than schmucks like me. :-p

10:50 pm

Blogger MT said...

Thanks. :)

I think it helps in limiting my choices that I eventually want to work in Hong Kong for a while, and preferably still be able to communicate with collegues using English. There's a few HK clerkship schemes available out there, and I'm largely drawn to the offering firms.

That, and the fact that I'm a geek. I want to be where the technology stuff is happening.

Putting these two together pretty much led me to idolise a certain firm. That's it really.

2:15 am

Blogger Siva said...

Thanks for reading my book!


9:43 am


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