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Interview with Founder of Geekcorps 88

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the stuff-to-read dept.
cynical writes "WorldChanging has a new interview up with Ethan Zuckerman, founder of Geekcorps, fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and editor of BlogAfrica, the best source of access to African bloggers around. Zuckerman talks about the growing role of blogging in the developing world, fighting corruption and censorship online, the emerging world of "social source software," and a lot more. It's a long, wide-ranging conversation; clearly, this guy is thinking big about the power of the web, especially outside the United States."
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Interview with Founder of Geekcorps

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  • Third world blogs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kundor (757951) <kundor@member.fsYEATSf.org minus poet> on Thursday August 26, 2004 @04:26PM (#10082062) Homepage
    I'd think that the problem with using the internet to combat censorship and corruption is that the censored and oppressed people are precisely those without internet access. Those who have it are already in the privileged classes.
    • I'd think that the problem with using the internet to combat censorship and corruption is that the censored and oppressed people are precisely those without internet access. Those who have it are already in the privileged classes.

      False. All you need is one person or group of people with the power to connect to the internet and the desire to let others use it.

      Any vagrant can walk into a public library and use the internet. Are they suddenly part of a privileged class?
      • by kundor (757951) <kundor@member.fsYEATSf.org minus poet> on Thursday August 26, 2004 @04:40PM (#10082208) Homepage
        How many public libraries are there in Africa?

        How many public libraries are in the African boondocks?

        How many of those libraries have internet access?

        I think you'll find the number is vanishingly small.

        • A public library is only one example. My point was you don't have to be rich to have internet access, you just have to have ACCESS to someone who has internet access. So this idea is not useless even though it is targeted at poorer areas.
        • A century ago, dictatorships would collect and destroy unauthorized presses.
          Then it was typewriters and mimeograph machines.
          Some have tried to do the same with copiers and faxes, but the genie was starting to get out of the bottle at that point. By the time China had trouble at Tianamen, I remember reading how the insurrection depended heavily on faxes.

          So, blogging can help. So does encryption, memory sticks, cd-based OS's (reboot and incriminating forensic data is *gone!*), wireless data, cellphones, et
          • Probably another example of using technical means to solve a social problem. Doesn't always work. First off, if you have a censored internet, how do you get information about these products to the masses, esp. when you have internet cafes that are policed by good ol' fashioned humans looking over your shoulder? If you are researching encryption, than you automatically made yourself stand out, and you need to know about encryption before you can use it. Plus, you always have the irrational fear instilled
        • by kalidasa (577403) *
          Let's put it this [knls.or.ke] way. Ok, that's the extreme: and the fact that someone came up with such a service shows how hard librarians work to service their public, especially when there are severe economic hardships.
      • You cant walk into a library and get on the net in every country. Some governments will kill or torture you for trying to get access to different views and even once you have net access you have to worry about monitoring/censorship. In the end theres nothing any government can do people will get connections, but its not a walk in the park yet.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Any vagrant can walk into a public library and use the internet. Are they suddenly part of a privileged class?

        Yes. They are privlidged because they live in a place where there are free and open libraries in the first place. Not to mention living in a place where internet access isn't censored.

        The vagrant may be poor, but being able to live off the scraps of the rich gives that vagrant a standard of living better than working-class people in many 3rd-world countries.
      • Any vagrant can walk into a public library and use the internet. Are they suddenly part of a privileged class?

        If they know how to use a computer to access the internet, then yes, they are.
        Most people have never even used a telephone.
    • Re:Third world blogs (Score:1, Interesting)

      by ahsile (187881)
      I agree, we are in the priveledged ranks. With the internet I can post (almost) anywhere I want and whatever I want. Censorship out there is something that isn't going to happen. It's much too large for a single body to go through and censor. Let my voice be heard!

    • by MoralHazard (447833) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @04:58PM (#10082350)
      First of all, RTFA. They're seeking to BRING the internet to the underprivileged in countries that are least likely to get it otherwise. That's the whole point.

      Second of all, it's not like censorship and oppression uniquely affect the poorest of the poor. There's a thing called the "middle class", or perhaps "Bourgeoisie" (if you're that kind of cat). Everybody who isn't politically/economically elite can suffer from these kinds of things. Take a look at China: the Great Firewall blocks the traffic of the wage-slave and entrepreneur alike.

      And yes, it's more likely that those in the middle class will have the resources, education, perspective, and political voice to resist censorship on their own, but that's a tendency, not a binary situation.

      Besides, tools like these don't magically make oppressive governments stop being evil--the tools have to be applied to the problem by motivated actors. It turns out (despite what Marx thought) that the middle class is the source of a hell of a lot more political resistance to government than the poor.* This isn't a denigration of the poor--it's just an observed fact of social change movements around the world in the last 50 years. So the logic follows that giving tools to fight oppression to the middle class permits them to carry the fight for everybody.

      * Personally, I chalk this up to the fact that the line between the middle class and the workers that Marx noticed has blurred and become a really big, fat zone. A huge portion of the American/European middle class are wage-earners, which would make them "workers" according to Marxist thought. But they also own a substantial amount of property (houses, cars, boats, bank accounts, investments), which would make them capitalists. Funny old world we live in, isn't it?
      • A huge portion of the American/European middle class are wage-earners, which would make them "workers" according to Marxist thought. But they also own a substantial amount of property (houses, cars, boats, bank accounts, investments), which would make them capitalists. Funny old world we live in, isn't it?

        I think an old school Marxist would nitpick this by saying that you only cease to be a member of the working class when you derive all (or as near to all as makes no odds) of your livelihood from rents,

    • Over at the Belmont Club blog [blogspot.com] there is an essay describing how people right now here in the USA are "using the internet to combat censorship and corruption"

      The essay [blogspot.com] (snippets below) also 'attempts' to utilize some Object Oriented lingo to describe what is going on (grin).

      The undercard in the Kerry vs

      Swiftvets [swiftvets.com] bout is Mainstream Media vs Kid Internet, two distinctly different fights, but both over information. The first is really the struggle over the way Vietnam will be remembered by posterity; ... Bu

      • Love how you added links (that were not in the article you quoted) to pimp the Swift Boat Veterans for Pravda and try to drag some /. traffic their way. Too bad their accusations are lies.

        The real issue here is the speed and low cost of astroturf attack campaigns via the net, and how easy it's been for the Bush campaign to farm out their attacks and deny that the attackers are controlled by Rove and his gang.

        If Bush wins again, we can expect the Democrats to lower themselves to the same tactics in future
        • "Too bad their accusations are lies."

          This must be why John Kerry has taken the

          Swift Boat Vets for Truth [he.net] to court for libel ... NOT ... instead John Kerry is threatening third-party TV Stations [swiftvets.com] & bookstores instead. I guess the real threat to freedom is Kerry not some scarry "Patriot Act" that has harmed zero US Citizens and zero US Permanent Residents that you or anyone else can name

          I'm confused about the Kerry in Cambodia thing ... I guess the SwiftVets were telling the turth about Kerry never be

        • "The real issue here is the speed and low cost of astroturf attack campaigns via the net, and how easy it's been for the Bush campaign to farm out their attacks and deny that the attackers are controlled by Rove and his gang."

          This Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

          article [post-gazette.com] has a synopsis of the whole SwiftBoats for Truth internet phenomena.

          Money quote ... "The biggest unreported story of this campaign is the extent to which the major media are in the tank for Kerry. But media bias -- which has reached comic propor

  • concusion (Score:4, Funny)

    by virtualone (768392) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @04:27PM (#10082075)
    at the end of TFI he asks you to reply if you are interested in transferring a large amount of money out of namibia. you wil get your fair share, for sure.
  • digital divide (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chuck Bucket (142633) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @04:33PM (#10082129) Homepage Journal
    to make a level playing field for all to participate on the Internet, we must defeat the "digital divide". I think with good geeks like this, armed with a bevy of OSS, this will be accomplished.

    it's literally giving Power To The People - and not just the elite.

    call me a socialist, call me a communist, call me a rainy day anarchist, just don't call me late for dinner.

    CB
    • Who came up with this 'digital divide' crap? I only associate this phrase with ludicrous schemes such as bringing the Internet to impoverished African states.

      Call me old fashioned; but food, santitation, housing, education and social justice come first. Only when these are in place can we think about exposing these people to free music, porn and inane ramblings on sites like... slashdot.
      • Re:Priorities (Score:3, Insightful)

        Who came up with this 'digital divide' crap? I only associate this phrase with ludicrous schemes such as bringing the Internet to impoverished African states.

        Call me old fashioned; but food, santitation, housing, education and social justice come first.


        Who came up with this 'literacy divide' crap? I only associate this phrase with ludicrous schemes such as teaching kids impoverished African states to read.

        Call me old fashioned; but food, santitation, housing, education and social justice come first.
      • I equate the 'digital divide' with computers; not the internet. give computers, let them learn them as we have, and all other things; social programs, food, education, justice, would(could?) follow. regardless, they'll have tools, and the knowledge to use them. how successful they are with them is offtopic.

        remember, teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime.

        CVB
    • Eliminating the 'digital divide' is all well and good, except, in the US at least, that's given as the defining goal rather than a step in the proper direction.

      To clarify: It tends to be a situation of, "Here's the Internet, GO!" with no instruction on how to use it as an effective tool. People are not instructed on how to keep computers safe and maintained. They are not instructed to evaluate sources to see if all of the information to which they now have access is even worth anything.

      This combined wi

      • Is that many people don't care to learn. They want computers to require zero knowledge, which isn't the case, and get angry and whine about "the digital divide" when it is required of them.

        I do computer support for a living (to people with MSes and PhDs) and we provide plenty of educaiton. We are happy to explain why you should not infect your computer and how to avoid it. Thing is, many don't care to listen. They don't want to learn about it, they just want it to happen with no effort on their part.

        Also
        • Perhaps I have a somewhat different view of what constitutes illiteracy. The ability to not just read but to effectively communicate thoughts in words, to me, is what makes a person literate.

          I've read plenty of university level papers to know that even the "best and brightest" don't really know how to write. This cannot, of course, be entirely blamed on individuals. The school system does not properly train this skill.

          Spelling, now...I can't be critical on spelling...In general, I spell like a dyslex

          • Again, different kinds of literacy, hence why I used the prefix "functional". Universities agree with you, and hence why some allegedly good writers get thrown in remedial English when they come here. However the ability to write a good persuasive essay, research paper, speech, etc is not what it takes to be literate, at least as it pertains to computers.

            For computers you require only functional literacy. You need to be able to read and comprehend simple sentences and input simple commands. A 9th grade pro
      • It tends to be a situation of, "Here's the Internet, GO!" with no instruction on how to use it as an effective tool.

        Well that approach worked for us, didn't it? I think that the most exciting thing about the internet is that it doesn't come with an instruction manual.
  • by tobi-wan-kenobi (797654) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @04:33PM (#10082134) Journal
    first: i admit to not having read the whole article, since it really is a bit long for the hour. second: his notion about "social source" software is really interesting. commonly, the wide-spread use of the internet is said to diminuish face-to-face contact between people. the other side that often is neglected is demonstrated by this article: the internet can also be used to enable communication, as a means for a war against "corruption" and especially "censorship". what people often forget is that, no matter how big, the internet still is nothing more than a tool. and most tools do not tend to be either "good" or "bad", but achieve their quality by the way they are used. this is an excellent demonstration on how to do it right. my 2 pence, n'tn more
  • The first time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Darkman, Walkin Dude (707389) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @04:35PM (#10082146) Homepage

    You know, this is the first time I've ever seen what could be called a viable use for blogs. The idea of posting your day to day affairs, life and opinions on the web for any stranger to see strikes me as being at best social networking, at worst repulsively narcissistic.

    However using blogs to speak out against corrupt regimes etc. does seem to fill a niche that needed filling (although I don't see how it differs greatly from setting up a protest website). It gives an insight into the day to day life of a person living under such conditions, which we would otherwise not have. Its one of the reasons I enjoy chatrooms so much-where else can you get a real insight into the lives and cultures of people hal a world away?

    • ie. blogs are only ok for interesting people. That makes a certain sense but it sort of goes against the idea of a free and open internet.
      • Re:The first time (Score:3, Insightful)

        by proj_2501 (78149)
        Actually, it really only matters for interesting WRITERS.

        There are quite a few people I know who can make even the banal sound exotic, and those who lead interesting lives while only publishing sentences.
    • Its one of the reasons I enjoy chatrooms so much-where else can you get a real insight into the lives and cultures of people hal a world away?

      In that case:

      Dear Sir,
      My name is Mtumbo Mombatu, heir to the fortune of my father, recently killed in a horrific elephant accident, which is a sum in the value if $14,655,309. I need to transfer this money through an American Bank. For your services, I will offer you exactly one half of this inheritance (exactly $7,327,654.50 USD )...
    • Iraq the Model [iraqthemodel.com] is my favorite blog for exactly this reason.

      On the other hand, the pretentious leftist stuff I see all over the WorldChanging site ("The second superpower", indeed) doesn't strike me as particularly, well, world changing at all.

      D
  • Hypocrite (Score:3, Informative)

    by mc6809e (214243) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @04:36PM (#10082163)
    EZ says: You've actually just identified the essential problem of free market journalism. In free market journalism you're allowed to print whatever stories your audience wants to read.

    Oh, gee, how terrible that people decide for themselves what stories they want to write and what stories they want to read.

    Ever hear of freedom of the press?

    • Re:Hypocrite (Score:3, Insightful)

      by thelexx (237096)
      Reading that line in context leaves me with the clear impression that it is pandering and a lack of a worldly view on the part of the (presumably US) press that he has a problem with. Not the basic idea of a free press. He simply chose a relatively poor way of articulating it.
    • Re:Hypocrite (Score:5, Insightful)

      by david.given (6740) <dg@cowlark.cCURIEom minus physicist> on Thursday August 26, 2004 @05:03PM (#10082395) Homepage Journal
      Oh, gee, how terrible that people decide for themselves what stories they want to write and what stories they want to read.

      It's a pity there isn't a -1, Missed The Point.

      If people only read what they want to read, they'll never hear about anything that they don't want to read --- but should be reading. Let's say your country is having a war. It's going badly. Do people want to hear about yet another messy encounter where far too many people died on both sides with no actual result? Hell, no. They'd much rather read about heroic rescues of photogenic young soldiers, and then skip on to the sport pages. The result? They end up either not knowing about what's going on, or not caring, or both. It's good for people to have their world upset every so often, regardless of what they want.

      Ever hear of freedom of the press?

      Yes. It means that journalists are allowed to print anything that they think the audience should know about, which is totally different.

      • Yes. It means that journalists are allowed to print anything that they think the audience should know about, which is totally different.

        Bravo!

        KFG
  • Outside the U.S. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Alaren (682568) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @04:37PM (#10082171)

    Considering the way corporations and the government are treating web use inside the U.S., I'm glad someone is thinking outside the borders...

  • Bridging the gap (Score:3, Interesting)

    by H_Fisher (808597) <[moc.liamtoh] [ta] [rehsifvh]> on Thursday August 26, 2004 @04:40PM (#10082204)
    (From the article:)

    We haven't had our first developing world A-list blogger yet. We haven't even seen anyone in the West who writes primarily, or even frequently, about developing world issues developing the kind of reputation that would help them get the word out on crises[...]

    I wonder if any American or European agencies concerned with human rights issues, stopping censorship, etc. could encourage people in "developing" nations to speak out by providing space, publicity (a Slashdot-like list of links to individuals' blogs), or other efforts to help people tell their stories?

    I'm not a blogger because most of the ones I've seen are (a) long-winded political rants or (b) personal drama; I'd much rather see, and tell others about, the world events we aren't seeing on the evening news and aren't hearing about from our government.

  • Outside? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tetsugaku-San (717792) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @04:41PM (#10082221) Homepage
    There's a web outside the US? wait - There's an outside the US?
  • Hole in the Wall (Score:4, Informative)

    by plimsoll (247070) <5dj82jy7c001@sne ... l.com minus poet> on Thursday August 26, 2004 @04:45PM (#10082249) Homepage
    This reminds me of Sugata Mitra's altruistic "Hole in the Wall" experiment; providing publicly-available ruggedized PC's embedded in protective enclosures for the intellectual arousal and enlightenment of street children.
    • Definitely a good idea there. Incubating children in a technology rich environment does much more than increase their learning potential. It shows them that there is a world out there that isn't like the one they live in and there is a strong chance that they will do more to better themselves and in turn better their country as a whole.

      Marvelous
  • Great... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by HarveyBirdman (627248)
    First thing I see is a diatribe against PDFs for not being good at something they aren't really intended for (open collaboration). If someone is using PDF format for an open and living document, they are an idiot, but that's not the PDF format's fault. Anyone who hates a format because it gets misused is not firing on all cylinders.

    Pffft...

  • Or am I the only one who read that?
  • But first surely we need to fight corruption 'off-line' first. Just ask Bush and Bliar.
    • why?

      in my opinion, one should always prefer to fight on ground he knows well. try to beat the likes of bush on political level, and you are bound to lose.

      additionally, the web has a lot of potential in this field. the ability to spread information virtually without boundaries (ruling out china's efforts to proove otherwise).
  • There's a similar program based in Canada: http://www.netcorps-cyberjeunes.org/ [netcorps-cyberjeunes.org]
  • um? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Xargle (165143)
    "It's a long, wide-ranging conversation; clearly, this guy is thinking big about the power of the web, especially outside the United States"

    In the context that reads very very wrong to someone from Europe. Please! Send us solar panels and laptops for our village so we can learn about your advanced American ways!
    • Only the Americans can help further us backwards, mud-hut-living, tree-bark-eating Europeans! Come, great white man, teach us your strange, fantastic ways!

      :-P

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 26, 2004 @05:35PM (#10082678)
    I don't have a Slashdot-account and I didn't want to create one just to say this, so sorry for the AC.

    My experiance with Geekcorps is not such a good one. I first read about them a couple of years ago, I guess it was around 2000. I was very enthusiastic at this time and thought it was one of the best ideas ever, kind of like OSS applied not to software but to the real world. I had plenty of time before the start of university and I sent them my application because I wanted to volunteer to work for them about three months. Of course I can't judge for myself but I think I was qualified enough, having an excellent diploma, lots of experiance in building networks, GNU/Linux and programming, good references from companies like Vodafone and having a nice scholarship from Lucent.

    Well, I didn't hear from them for a while and after a couple of weeks I decided to send a nice e-mail to ask. They almost immediately replied and sent me a rather rude e-mail where they wrote that I am not qualified. Well, they didn't even know about my qualifications because I never got the chance to tell them. They just had a very minimalistic web-interface where I could check several buttons. I really expected that after filling out this form somebody would get in touch with me to find out what kind of person I am, why I want to go to Africa to help, why I think I can do the job and stuff like this.

    No, didn't happen. To me it looks like they really didn't want to bother and just were out to get their name in the newspapers in order to attract sponsors. I really hope that this impression is wrong and that they can achieve their goals because I still think that this is an outstanding idea. I am just not happy with the way they treated me and maybe other persons willing to support them.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ROFLMAO.

    This guy is ignorant as stupid can be.

    People love corruption in africa, corruption is breakfast, lunch and dinner thing.

    Have you seen last two episodes of The Amazing Race? in one players were charged $100 usd for a ride in a mini-bus, imagine the shape of the thing, and on the other one a local wanted couple in jail when he didn't comply with the agreement they had on the payment (the thing is on tape), to add to the thing the local got his money from the floor and didn't make a noise of it.

    Ok
  • by zaqattack911 (532040) on Thursday August 26, 2004 @06:03PM (#10082874) Journal
    All it took was a brief scan of Ethan's blog to remind me why I hate almost all "social commentary" blogs so much.

    a) Mostly just some guy tooting his own horn, beating off to the fact that people read his dinky website.

    b) It's boring... omg it's soo boring.

    c) I (href link) don't(href link) like (href link) links (href link) embedded EVERYWHERE (href link) in a god damn paragraph I'm (href link) trying to read. Especially when they make a word like "zuchini" a link.. fuck!

    Oh, and people who are going through genocide have better things to do than blog about their woes simply to entertain us western folks.

    Love,
    Zaq
    • links are supposed to be embedded almost anywhere you have a relevent page to link to unless its just a link to a search result thats the whole point of hyper-text. If you don't like it just ignore them or use a style-sheet to get rid of the underline - html is about giving you the page the way you want it.

      the other points i agree, unless you actually know the person most blogs suck.

  • Interview (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Having hung out in many different Third-World cyber cafes in Latin America and China, knowing many expats with the same experience in other places, let me assure you that the internet is being used in ways that are unique to local situations and cultures.

    Social needs are more important than tech savy.
  • He works at the Harvey Birdman Center? Cool, is he the guy with the eye patch?
  • the comics here:
    http://third.mediaicon.org/ [mediaicon.org]
  • ...and nitpicking about how blogs are narcissistic and boring, how links in text are a pain(!), Geekcorps is creating a nationwide information network in Mali.

    I'm kinda glad that most people in the US ignore the world outside. It makes it easier for the rest of us to get things done.

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