Hard News by Russell Brown


Crowds and Communities: an internet discussion

I've written before that since its very birth, the internet has advanced through "a pattern of motivated individuals and mobilised communities." The benevolent dictators who created the first technical protocols had their work underwritten by the crowds who organised themselves around the template. It was a raging, unlikely success.

In more recent years, we've seen the crowds move the earth. Last month's push back against the SOPA and PIPA laws was effective precisely because it was a crowd action. It also involved a form of obstructive protest that is by definition a crowd action -- the distributed denial of service attacks marshalled by Anonymous.

In a completely different vein, there's the crowdsourced creativity of the Star Wars Uncut project published this week: hundreds of individual each making their own 15 seconds of Episode IV: A New Hope, each clip spliced into a remarkably successful two-hour whole.

On a more mercurial level, there are the crowds that form and dissolve through every day on Twitter, around ideas, jokes and stories in the news.

Then there's one of the crowds you're part of: the one reading this post, and perhaps developing its themes in a subsequent discussion. As part of that crowd, you're pretty fly too, with your internal and external, individual and group, psychologies.

Well, I'm pleased to say that I'm going to be discussing these themes with two people who have a lot to bring. In association with Webstock and Internet NZ, Media7 is presenting a talk with Gabriella Coleman and Rob Malda.

Gabriella is a "digital anthropologist" at McGill University in Montreal. Her particular field of interest is defined in written work such as Is it a Crime? The Trangressive Politics of Hacking in Anonymous, and Hacker Politics and Publics. She has been up close with geek protest.

Rob Malda -- aka Cmdr. Taco -- is the founder of Slashdot, the "news for nerds" community whose ability to mobilise added a new word to the lexicon. To be "Slashdotted" after being linked from a discussion on the site was to be altogether too popular. Moreover, Slashdot also pioneered the handling of moderation in large-scale discussion communities by -- via a baroque but effective design -- handing it over to the crowd itself.

I'm to be talking about those things and more with Gabriella and Rob on Monday February 13, with -- let me say it again -- the help of Webstock and Internet NZ.

We will be starting the discussion at 5pm at TVNZ in Auckland. A shorter version will be produced as that week's Media7 show on TVNZ 7 and the full hour will be available online.

You're invited to join us, but we'll need you to come to the Victoria Street entrance of TVNZ (it's a gate leading to a courtyard) by 4.30pm at the latest. I'll also need you to click the little icon below and email to say you're coming. We have limited space in the studio, but if there's big demand, we'll operate and overflow room. If you won't be able to join us, please do join the discussion here.

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