Monthly Archives: October 2013

A Novel on the Possible Dark Side of Web 2.0

About ten years ago, the largest sites on the web, as well as the people who make up the population of the internet, truly started to adopt a community-based internet. The web 2.0 philosophy has come far since the first discussions of transforming the internet were underway. It has morphed the internet into a web of social media and massively large tech companies like Google and Facebook.

These social media and web-service platforms are the means through which users interact with one another and have a presence on the web. Social media and other similar web 2.0 ideas are still moving forward very fast, and the web is changing along with them.

However, Rob Williams at Policy Mic has written a recent review of a book that explores the future of the online world as the development of the social internet goes in a certain direction. It doesn’t look to be an ideal situation.

The book is called The Circle, by Dave Eggers, and should be on the book shelf of everyone who enjoys reading about the future of tech, social media, or communication and identity in general. Rob describes the book stating that it’s “set in the not-too-distant future” and that the “story takes us inside a shiny-happy California-based media corporation called the Circle,” which has come to dominate the internet as the most powerful tech company, even more so than Google today.

The book continues to explore the cultural and social changes that would occur from a highly centralized, data-driven social network for the world’s population. It’s not a dystopian novel, but Eggers does provide some criticism of the types of social connections created and admired by people online.

If that sounds interesting to you, be sure to read Rob’s article at Policy Mic. It’s certainly a novel that will force you think about the pros and cons of continuing to support social and communal web based online networks and social media.

Comments Taking Fire Around the Web

One of the key aspects of the Web 2.0 movement is including user-created and user-generated content. Interactivity was a selling point for many websites and has been vital to the growth of huge social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. However, not all of these back-and-forth conversations between users online have been civil or worthwhile.

One of the worst places that these interactions between users take place is on the comments sections of news sites and other websites. Web 2.0 was all about creating a broad space for public discourse and encouraging it at every corner. This hasn’t turned out the way the original theorists thought it would, and Popular Science is one of the first websites to take a stand.

As Dietram A. Scheufele reports in the New Scientist, Popular Science “announced last month that it would no longer allow reader comments” on its website. The announcement sparked a great deal of debate in the online community as to whether this was a good decision or not.

One of the main issues with many comments sections on websites is that they are not capable of being moderated as well as say, a newspaper’s letters to the editor section. A lack of moderation online has in recent years (and very unfortunately) led to yelling, immature attacks, racism, and a variety of other unacceptable discourse.

Ultimately, Popular Science’s decision to remove its comments section has at the very least restarted a debate about the value of a comments section in the first place. Sure, there is a great deal of truth in the fact that more discourse helps the public, but when it’s vitriol and pointless, what help does it really offer to readers and participants in a discussion?

If you want to get a more in depth perspective on the issue, be sure to take a look at Dietram’s article. Perhaps there are other aspects and philosophies of the Web 2.0 movement that need to be re-examined. If a re-examination helps to improve the user experience on the web, it will be well worth the discussion.

More Developments in Silk Road Shutdown: Users to Restart Silk Road

Last week we discussed the story about the FBI raiding Ross William Ulbricht, the founder of the underground online market Silk Road. The raid was followed by the complete shut down of the Silk Road, an online market that was used primarily for illegal products and services. However, soon after the raid, news was spreading on the web that some users were planning on restarting the Silk Road, except this time under the name Silk Road 2.0.

According to John Biggs at TechCrunch (a site which has been covering this story fairly closely), creators of another similar “anonymous marketplace” called Atlantis are vowing to reopen the Silk Road while making it bigger and better.

From the words and opinions of the people supporting these anonymous networks, it seems to them that the Federal Government has angered a beehive by shutting down Silk Road. John Biggs writes, “Hackers, now emboldened, will produce many more SR-like sites than any government can police.”

Much like users on normal websites and online communities have banded together in a grassroots manner to keep their beloved sites working, it seems like hackers will now be making it even harder for the government to control these sorts of anonymous networks and marketplaces. This trend of users acting in their own interest has steadily increased in almost every region of the internet as the web 2.0 movement became broadly accepted.

It will be very interesting to see how the government responds to the hackers and site owners who attempt to resist them at every turn. There is already news that hackers are creating even more secure and anonymous systems and programs (BitWasp is mentioned in John’s article) to avoid tracking and consequences for whatever actions they are taking online and off.

At the very least, the story is bringing attention to the rarely recognized section of the internet called the “deep web.”

FBI Raids Silk Road, Bitcoins Seized and Owner Arrested

When people think of the websites that flourished thanks to the shift to the web 2.0 way of interacting online, they often think of sites and companies like Facebook, Yahoo, Google, and many others. However, some of the major points of the web 2.0 philosophy, user-based content and user-to-user engagement, haven’t always created the most respectable or admirable websites on the internet.

One site which grew out of the increased usage and reliance on the internet by millions of people in the US is the Silk Road. The Silk Road was well known as an “underground website … for drug trafficking and other illegal activity” as Matt Burns reports for TechCrunch. Silk Road was used by people all over the world to get illegal drugs, services, and almost anything else one can think of in a relatively safe and anonymous way.

As of yesterday, all of this illegal activity finally caught up to the site and its owner, Ross William Ulbricht. He has been charged with quite a bit, including conspiracy in narcotics hacking, computer hacking, and money laundering. Believe it or not, there were over 955,000 users accessing the site through a secure network called the Tor Network.

Its main competitor, Atlantis, “aimed to add a bit of whimsy and Web 2.0 marketing pizzazz to the same markets” but closed last month likely from pressure from the authorities. It goes to show you that people of all ranges of morality and ethics rely on the internet for good and bad. If it weren’t for the philosophies pushed by the founders of the web 2.0 movement, who knows if these sites or the ones we still use today (for completely legal activity!) would be here today.

Surprisingly, the Silk Road managed to rake in 9.5 million Bitcoins (a user-created online currency) that is equivalent to about $1.2 billion US dollars. That’s pretty remarkable, isn’t it?