Virtual Worlds are in Good Shape after All: Who Would Have Guessed?

Ever wondered just how many users dwell in so-called virtual worlds nowadays? Here’s a quick visual tool developed by UK-based company Kzero:  total registered accounts, average user age, and year of creation.

VW user census - (c) Kzero 2009
Virtual Worlds user census – (c) Kzero 2009

It’s only a fancy graph, I admit it, and it comes from a market research report. But the point here is that, despite adverse reports, virtual worlds are still in pretty good shape. One would imagine that, after the demise of the 1990s virtual reality craze, and after the mid-2000s half-assed attempt to revamp metaverses, plain non-MMORPG computer-based simulated environments would fall short in attracting new users and end up in the dustbin of history.


Don't believe the hype (about the role of social media in Iran protests)

“Iranian reformist candidates Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoub and their supporters have few communications options. They have no access to national TV, radio, or newspapers, which are under state control. Text messaging is being blocked and web sites are filtered. How are they able to organize a huge protest movement?

While the mainstream media has focused on the role of Twitter and decentralized organizing, the real picture of digital activism in Iran is more complex. Protests are organized centrally by the campaigns of reformist candidates and then that information is disseminated both online and off. The role of citizens with regard to social media is as citizen journalists, using YouTube and Twitter to report on what is happening, rather than to organize the protests. Since this activity is intended for an international audience (and is in English) it is no wonder that this use of social media is more visible to a Western audience than the online tactics actually being used to organize the protests.”

Digital Activism in Iran: Beyond the Headlines
By Hamid Tehrani, June 20, 2009
(read the rest of this article on Digiactive: a world of digital activists)

Ecole d'été sur Web Intelligence et réseaux sociaux

Appel à participation pour l’École d’été Web Intelligence WI09

Lieu : Le Buisson / Véranne (Loire)
Dates : du 6 au 10 juillet 2009
Inscriptions : ici
Nombre total de participants : estimé 60
Public concerné : doctorants, industriels, chercheurs, enseignants-chercheurs
Mots clés : web, web sémantique, recherche d’information, systèmes multi-agents, services webs, sécurité, fouille de données, ontologies

Dates importantes

  • Ouverture des inscriptions : 5 mai 2009
  • Fin des inscriptions sans majoration : 6 juin 2009
  • Date limite d’annulation sans frais : 12 juin 2009
  • Début de l’Ecole d’été : 6 juillet 2009
  • Fin de l’Ecole d’été : 10 juillet 2009

Présentation générale : (more…)

Cambridge researcher says free social use should prevail over copyright protection

identifier4Patricia Akester (University of Cambridge) undertook a project looking at the impact of technological measures on the ability of users to take advantage of the statutory exceptions to copyright. Based on a series of interviews with key organisations and individuals, involved in the use of copyright material and the development of DRM (Digital Rights Management), she provides a sober assessment of the current state of affairs. (more…)

Larry Lessig's Book on Internet Governance Turns Ten and Goes Creative Commons

Ten years ago, Lawrence Lessig published Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, a groundbreaking study on Internet governance insisting that it is not through laws that governements and private powers control the Internet, but via its software architecture, i.e. the code. Today, at the close of Web 2.0, as cloud computing hangs over our heads like the sword of Damocles, his message is still relevant. How many passwords and logins do we have to juggle with on a daily basis just to perform simple tasks (check emails, watch pictures, save files)? These are very small controls that certify users identity, status, location etc. and route them in one direction or another. Exit the laws regulating individual lives, the new internet governance is more comparable to cattle drive. “Bovinity” emerges as the new human condition in technologically-enhanced times.

A fundamental principle of bovinity is operating here and elsewhere. Tiny controls, consistently enforced, are enough to direct very large animals. The controls of a certificate-rich Internet are tiny, I agree. But we are large animals. I think it is as likely that the majority of people would resist these small but efficient regulators of the Net as it is that cows would resist wire fences. This is who we are, and this is why these regulations work. (Lessig, p. 73)

Despite its far-sightedness, after ten years in print and ten years of changes in law and technology, the book needed an update. In 2005, a wiki was created to this purpose. The resulting new version of the book, Code Version 2.0, is now online under Creative Commons licence. This means you can download the new edition  for free just clicking here.

In 2009 the

Support Prof. Horacio Potel!, or a portrait of the philosopher as a pirate

Addendum, Nov 14, 2009: As of today, we salute the recent decision of the Argentinian court dropping the charges against Prof Potel. Read more about this here (in English). Download court’s sentence here (in Spanish).

Argentinean professor charged criminally for promoting access to knowledge
By the CopySouth Research Group

A philosophy professor in Argentina, Horacio Potel, is facing criminal charges for maintaining a website devoted to translations of works by French philosopher Jacques Derrida. His alleged crime:  copyright infringement. Here is Professor Potel’s sad story.

Prof. Potel usually wears a pirate eye patch while lecturing in philosophy

Prof. Potel usually puts his pirate patch on *before* lecturing in philosophy at UNLA

“I was fascinated at the unlimited possibilities offered by the internet for knowledge exchange”, explains Horacio Potel, a Professor of Philosophy at the Universidad Nacional de Lanús in Buenos Aires. In 1999, he set up a personal website to collect essays and other works of some well-known philosophers, starting with the German Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. Potel’s websites – Nietzsche in Spanish, Heidegger in Spanish, and Derrida in Spanish – eventually developed into growing online libraries of freely downloadable philosophical texts. Nietzsche in Spanish alone has already received more than four million visitors.


Journée d'étude Approches ethnographiques du Web

5 MAI 2009
9H-18H Salle A2 de l’ École Normale Supérieure – Campus Jourdan, 48 bvd Jourdan 75014 PARIS
Comité d’organisation : Anne-Sophie Béliard (doctorante au CIM-Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle), Baptiste Brossard (doctorant au CMH-ENS/EHESS)


What kind of government rules over the Facebook nation?

(from The Wired Campus, April 20, 2009 Jonathan Zittrain: A Bill of Rights for the Facebook Nation)

[…] in mid-February, Facebook posted a set of what its management seems to have thought were minor changes to its terms of service – the kind of things that just wouldn’t matter to its users. Instead a privacy panic ensued, reinforcing larger worries about Facebook’s power.

Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, responded quickly – in plainspeak rather than legalese – and I credit his view that the changes in terms of service really weren’t meant to be a stealthy way of doing surprising new things with users’ information. But he used the occasion to offer an analogy:

“More than 175 million people use Facebook. If it were a country, it would be the sixth most populated country in the world. Our terms aren’t just a document that protect our rights; it’s the governing document for how the service is used by everyone across the world.”

New discovery: actually Internet CURES cancer!!!

By Antonio A. Casilli (Centre Edgar-Morin, EHESS, Paris)

After putting online a post that satirized an article claiming that electronic media give cancer recently published by Aric Sigman in The Biologist (2009), I’ve undergone a phase of serious self-criticism. Sure, I was in fierce disagreement with the author. But the general tone of my post was un-academic and rude. Ad hominem attacks really don’t belong in science. Turns out I am a dismissive prick. What do you know? 😀

So I decided to make it right by you folks, and to hone my argument by providing evidence – hard fact-based scientific evidence. I did it like any other scientist would, by collecting a bunch of data, tinkering with them a little, cherry-picking something, hiding something else, and wrapping everything up in fancy graphics! What did I get at the end of the day? A revolutionary discovery: not only Internet does not give cancer, it actually cures it!

How did I come up with such a sensational breakthrough? First, I took a random data set from the United Nations Statistics Division. Then I arbitrarily decided that Internet access would be an accurate proxy for actual Internet use. So I asked myself the following question: do countries that are more connected (in terms of percentage of people having Internet access) have a higher number of deaths for two common types of cancer – breast for the ladies, prostate for the gents? For the sake of completeness, I focused on 2002 (because data were not available for several countries before that year). I put everything in my statistical blender, and this is what I obtained:

Correlation Internet access and prostate cancer deaths - via

Correlation bw Internet access and prostate cancer mortality - via


Use social networking services, get free cancer

By Antonio A. Casilli (Centre Edgar-Morin, EHESS, Paris)

In a recent lecture at the University Paris Descartes I had mentioned an article published in The Biologist by Aric Sigman, Fellow of the English Royal Society for Medicine, claiming that intensive use of social networking is linked to biological changes in humans: genetic alterations, increased morbidity/mortality for cardiovascular disease, and decreasing survival time for cancer patients. It’s the infamous “Facebook gives cancer” argument, that has caused quite a stir in the UK. The article, that you have here in pdf version, provides a clear illustration of what I described elsewhere as “the dialectic between the stethoscope and the mouse” – i.e. the ambivalent relationship between contemporary biomedicine and digital culture (Casilli, 2009).

In his always amazing Bad Science blog, Ben Goldacre has already bashed the article to a pulp from a medical standpoint, showing that the underlying research is far from being scientifially robust – a medical euphemism mainly used to dismiss despicable bullshit.

From the sociological point of view, I am pretty astonished to discover that all of Sigman’s argument is based on one assumption: that the increase in social networking website usage automatically results into a decline of face-to-face contact which in turn equates to social withdrawal – which causes cancer. This graph, featured in the article, pretty much sums it up:


Source: Aric Sigman 2009

For the non-initiated, that basically reads: “The more you surf on the Web, the more you grow lonely and your friends and family turn their backs on you and in the end you DIE ALONE like a dog”.