Archive for July, 2009

Will today’s innovations stop future innovations?

Monday, July 20th, 2009

This excellent piece by Jonathan Zittrain explains very nicely the potential downsides of how cloud computing is developing these days. (“Cloud” here refers to having all our data reside out there on others’ machines instead of on our own devices.)

A few quotes, but as we like to say, read the whole thing.

The crucial legacy of the personal computer is that anyone can write code for it and give or sell that code to you — and the vendors of the PC and its operating system have no more to say about it than your phone company does about which answering machine you decide to buy. Microsoft might want you to run Word and Internet Explorer, but those had better be good products or you’ll switch with a few mouse clicks to OpenOffice or Firefox.


The iPhone’s outside apps act much more as if they’re in the cloud than on your phone: Apple can decide who gets to write code for your phone and which of those offerings will be allowed to run. The company has used this power in ways that Bill Gates never dreamed of when he was the king of Windows: Apple is reported to have censored e-book apps that contain controversial content, eliminated games with political overtones, and blocked uses for the phone that compete with the company’s products.


When we vest our activities and identities in one place in the cloud, it takes a lot of dissatisfaction for us to move. And many software developers who once would have been writing whatever they wanted for PCs are simply developing less adventurous, less subversive, less game-changing code under the watchful eyes of Facebook and Apple.

On a related note, this post seems like an appropriate occasion to link to this great cartoon, which the artist created over 10 months ago.

Popularity of Facebook and MySpace changes, but SES differences in use persist

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Two years ago, as part of a collection of articles researching social network site uses, I published a piece (blog post here) about the different predictors of Facebook and MySpace use among a diverse group of first-year college students. Some of the reactions to that paper suggested that the the differences by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status identified in the data were only temporary and would soon change.

Change in Facebook and MySpace use by race/ethnicity among a group of college students, 2007-2009I now have some new data to consider possible changes over the past two years. I haven’t written this up in any formal way yet (nor do I have more elaborate statistical analyses to share right now), but I do have some figures suggesting that the differences I identified two years ago persist today.

Note that this is a new cohort of first-year students (i.e., not the same students resurveyed two years later) at the same universitywhere I conducted the study in 2007. (See details about the data collection and sample descriptives at the end of this post.)

Change in Facebook and MySpace use by parental education among a group of college students, 2007-2009There are two main findings here. (Click on the images for larger versions or see the table below.) First, there is a general increase in use of Facebook and a general decline in use of MySpace across the board. In 2007, 79% of the study participants were using Facebook while in 2009, 87% of the sample reports doing so. In contrast, while in 2007, 55% of the group reported using MySpace, in 2009, only 36% do so.

Second, we continue to see ethnic and racial differences as well as different usage by parental education (a proxy for socioeconomic status). Students of Hispanic origin are more likely to use MySpace than others and less likely to use Facebook than others. Asian American students are the least likely to be on MySpace. Regarding parental education, the relatively small number (7%) of students in the sample whose parents have less than a high school education are much more likely to be on MySpace and much less likely to be on Facebook than others. Students from families where at least one parent has a college degree are much less likely to be MySpace users than others.

In my 2007 paper, I talked a bit about what may be going on here, but getting deep into that is difficult through data of this sort. danah boyd does much more in-depth work in this realm – granted, on high school students not college students – and has shared reflections both two years ago and just last week on what may be going on.

I welcome suggestions on how to represent this information better (from the table below) on figures as I’m not too happy with my current attempts.

Change in Facebook and MySpace use among a group of college students, 2007-2009

Descriptive statistics about the two samples are below. In both years, we collected data among students enrolled in the one required course at the University of Illinois, Chicago: the First-Year Writing Program. We administered a paper-pencil survey so as not to bias against those who spend less time online or those who are less comfortable with filling out surveys on the Web. The response rate in 2007 was 82%, in 2009 it was 80.5%. The sample here includes first-year students ages 18-24 who took the survey.

Descriptive statistics about UIC '07 and '09 samples

Many thanks go to the fabulous research assistants in the Web Use Project group who were instrumental in the collection of all these data.

Many excluded from opportunity to get tickets for Michael Jackson memorial services

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

The assumption about universal Internet access among Americans likely left some of the most enthusiastic Michael Jackson fans without the opportunity to enter the lottery for tickets to the memorial services being held today in Los Angeles. Registering for the lottery could only be done online and many millions of Americans don’t have Internet access in their homes. Worse yet, because registration was confined to the dates of July 3rd and July 4th, most public access points would have been inaccessible due to holiday closings at public libraries and other locations. Adding insult to injury, these constraints of online access are very much unequally distributed among the population leaving certain types of people – for example, African Americans – much less likely to have had the opportunity to enter the drawing.

Talking about the digital divide – or the differences between the technological haves and have-nots – is passé conjuring up seemingly outdated debates of the 1990s. Nonetheless, the fact remains that a big portion of Americans continues to live without Internet access at home or often without any Internet use anywhere. According to the
latest figures (2007) from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, over 38% of American households report no home Internet use. Broken down by race and ethnicity, close to 55% of African American households and over 56% of Hispanic households do not report home Internet usage. The Pew Internet & American Life Project has more
recent figures
confirming that large numbers of Americans continue to be disconnected with Blacks and Hispanics less likely to be online than Whites and Asian Americans.

Having the chance to win a ticket to the Michael Jackson memorial services required Internet access at several levels. First, one had to access a Web site on July 3rd or July 4th to sign up for the drawing. Second, entering the lottery required an email address. Third, in order to find out about winning, one would have to check email on Sunday, July 5th to see about winner notification.

So how come we’ve seen no buzz over this topic? Buzz these days seems to come from online discussions and by definition, the people being excluded in this process are not online. They don’t run searches on Google, they don’t use Twitter, they don’t blog and consequently what’s on their minds does not show up in data about trending topics online. This is just one example of how the voices of those not online and the positions they represent are systematically excluded from conversation and public discussions. Millions of Americans are not online and this is just one example of the many opportunities from which they are systematically excluded on a daily basis due to this constraint.

Of course, there is no basic right associated with a chance to attend the Michael Jackson memorial services, but the rhetoric suggesting that anyone could enter the contest is problematic and perpetuates assumptions about how universal Internet use is in this country.