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Information nomads and community surfing

oRx | XoR | rOx :)
  17. únor 2008


flyer radicaux libres



Publishing information, but also it's browsing and reading poses a risk. As a precaution against hackers or viruses, the ISPs in the USA were forced to bug their system logs by secret service and police, which are thus able to track down from which telephone number or place did the user connect to the certain IP address. Through this they can trace the visitors of websites, the origin of emails, etc. Interestingly, an important producer of log data mining technologies is Microsoft, which OS and office software is a heaven for viruses. The security holes of its internet tools are often hard to grasp. It surely might be intentional, the Microsoft management called the computer underground Darknet and organizes seminars about cyberterrorism as a PR to their products.


Eventually, the weapons against prosecution of information have developed naturally. It is something that could be called non-linear ways of communication - stepping out of the mainstream, closed and multi-layered communication. Login boxes in discussion forums requiring password initially started to appear for identification reasons - to make the contributions more coherent and identifiable. Nevertheless, at some places one had to fulfill certain criteria in order to register, at some places you have to be someonë́'s friend to get in. Closed content started to increase. Nowadays, most of the quality information is behind the door which is difficult to pass. Robots cannot scan this content; for accessing personal contacts are required. We can speak about community sites, which have their entry games and rituals (typically, a new member must write something about himself and has to be recommended by an existing member). In open systems, forums with a restricted access only emerged. To allow free communication, there is a rule which forbids publishing contributions that appeared on the closed discussion system anywhere else without the author's consent. A similar etiquette of links and quotations has been created by the bloggers.

copyright and corporate culture


etoy.com - one of the first art projects on internet fell into trouble with its domain, when it turned into interest of an online toy sale company which succeeded to acquire the domain by tough court trials. Interestingly, after the burst of the .com bubble, the toy company bankrupted and the domain came back to the hands of the activists.


Free sites are facing problems and die. Police and corporations have learnt to monitor the web and terminate uncomfortable sites by threats to ISP and the hosting of providers usually without any legal backing. The weapons the corporations use against freedom of speech on internet are WIPO and DMCA - the World Intellectual Property Organisation and the infamous US autorship law the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. And of course, the Terrorist Threat. These acts basically work for state and large corporations, because an individual cannot compete on trademarks and patents with corporations. Thanks to DMCA hundreds of internet radios have been closed down. The copyright organisations together with distribution companies - or rather under their pressure - prosecute the spread of music and films, despite the fact that the change of their business model after the arrival of the internet is inevitable. The Napster trial was the beginning of the witch hunts. New systems for file sharing have developed, such as Gnutella, which surpassed the centralized and easily assailable model by distributed network. RIAA has placed spies in these systems, trace down downloads, sends out accusatory mails which report downloaders to providers and litigates with under-age children the same as elders. The only thing achieved, is a grow of new generations of file-sharing networks with new technologies for anonymizing, distributing transfer, routing mechanisms where every node becomes the server. This could be BitTorrent, Muse or any other software. Companies spread hidden malware and adware to sniff on people's behavior and preferences, on the other hand, youngsters stick at nothing and abuse the servers to make them serve their movies and when the exploit is discovered, they move to another. Napster was easily recognizable center, but you cannot hit the network which has no center.
Legislature in many countries is so screwed, that when you write your own music and want to play it, or sing traditional song, you have to pay for it. This comes from US, the world biggest media market dominated by major studios, reaches UK and EU and the domino goes on. The same as it makes celebrity pop-stars on one side, it kills free creation of most of the individual artists and people on the other. Sharing and remixing as natural principles of artist expression are there at least the whole 20th century, says Lawrence Lessig in his Free Culture. And above the subtitle 'How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity' the Creative Commons logo emerges from the book cover. CC is the answer of the people who do not want to be pushed to or over the legal border. Before CC, free content was illegal, with it we can now clearly explain what we do when running public archives of music, video and literature.


In 2004, I have downloaded from suprnova.org, before it was shut down, A. Jodorowsky's movie Holy Mountain. I didn't know what kind of film it is and nobody knew. I started using it in VJ projection for Bruno Ferrari, obscure, but in it's refined style a trend-setting band. People wondered. Later, small screenings of Jodorowsky's movies went through and after three years, Holy mountain was screened on mainstream film festival and thus came into national distribution. So does downloading spoil film business?


The fight is reverted from online back to the ordinary world. There are restrictions imposed upon parties and public appearances, efforts exist to enforce built-in protection against unauthorized use of author creation directly in the technology (players, projectors, memory cards). The protection goes so far that on your expensive player it might not be possible to play legal DVD or CD. Linux with Xine or VLC plays anything, region, CSS or not, it brings new logic into home entertainment and revolution into consumer electronics. Free software does not breach the DVD or MPEG licenses, it just came with new point of view. Linux is in cameras, portable thingies, set-top boxes, mobile phones... licencing models simply change. And the glimpsy floss is out of it.


There is often a misunderstanding, than open source or open content redistribution rules deny the copyright or intellectual property. No, not at all. They are *based* on copyright. BSD, GNU GPL, Creative commons... these all are licences, pretty strict licences. And there could be no licence without accepting the principle of authorship. But there is a difference, instead of binding people, they make people free.

creative communities


Except of the transfer speed and personalities the growth factors of communities are dreams as well. To have one's own living space, autonomous zone for different opinions and ideas, own club, own network. The internet isn't about a physical space, but about people's thinking. Communities arise around certain kind of music, soundsystem or visual style. It can be seen vice versa, too. The style arises as a characteristic feature of a community. Thanks to the control over the (mass) medium, they can spread information about events, or creative results such as music tracks and records, comics, videos and texts without financial costs. Thus, an autonomous group of authors as well as an audience comes into being. In every case, encounters, communication possibilities and removing barriers constitutes a strong acceleration. Sub-cultural potential of interconnected communities is immense.


node9.org has arisen during 2003 a hosts cultural websites as alternative music magazine and other musical projects, performance and theatre activities, it, was at the birth of media studies projects, hosts websites of artists and independent producers or designer web-boutique, of sorts, usual web citizens. Server carries on mailinglists, streaming and thousands of people use it on daily basis. In the year 2005 with the freetekkno VJs there was published videorecordings of brute attack of policeman on free festival Czechtek, which was taken up by major czech television stations, some of them claimed exclusivity of the shots downloaded. Heavy load during this cause, abuse by pirates or attempt to cut out some unhandy websites to make a subsidy goldmine out of it - every now and then the server run mostly by artists stands in a different kind of attack and strenghtens the community immunity system.


As Lev Manovich notes, traditional division of art into genres according to a medium (photography, film, video) is pointless in cyberspace. Through transmitting onto the Internet, everything is sampled into a digital version, which accentuates some of it's attributes and other (traditional) lose significance. Hypertext, net-art and new forms of art, the process of cut, paste, rip and remix are natural information patterns of behaviour. Freedom of interconnection of anything crashes linear ways of expression and thinking. Interactivity wipes out and reverses the roles of author/audience. It is interesting to note, that even DJ and party culture was based on deposing the musician from the stage star into crowd, where he was one of the present, peer to peer. Nowadays, anyone can choose what he or she wants to play on an Internet radio. Anyone can stream his or hers own music mixes. The ratio of those who broadcast to those who listen keeps increasing. As opposed to the classic media with one transmitter and masses of thoroughly passive recipients of social programming, we are talking about a post-media and post-net culture. On the net stands who isn't creative, doesn't exist.


In creative communities, hacktivism is an interconnection of artistic expression, opensource programming, performance and cultural|social|political activism. They use and provide audio and video streaming using free tools, which they often develop. Jaromil, a rasta coder, started in 2001 a live linux distro dyne:bolic, meant specifically for artists and loaded with ready to use programms for audio, video, streaming, VJing. Later, goto10 collective had customized dyne core and built a distro around pure data and other real-time audiovisual processing software. Pure data, a lightdrop for the nomad gone astray in the dark digital chaos... PD creates a new space between technology and people. Miller Puckette, PD originator, had got into difficulties continuing the work on it's predecessor MAX/MSP as commercialized software, so he started PD as a free clone. This kind of visual programming environments doesn't tell you how you have to use it. Instead, it lets you create a patch which works the way you think, doesn't limit you. There is also possibility to interconnect with others and send live data over the network. Look at the website of Yves Degoyon, PiDiP library coder, or riereta.net, if you want some nodes of avant-garde post-underground.


We talked about information, more or less textual. This is the freedom of audiovisual expression.



Liu Di, a twenty-two-year old student of psychology from Beijing wrote contributions in discussion groups under her nickname "stainless-steel mouse". When police closed her favourite chatroom, she set up her own. She published various articles on the on-line bulletin board and criticized the government restrictions of the Internet. Further, she expressed sympathy with the webmaster, who had been imprisoned for publishing articles dealing with forbidden topics, such as the demonstration at the Tian'anmen Square in 1989. The police arrested her for threatening the state security, searched her house, seized her computer, notes and floppy disks. Her parents don't know where she is.


Amnesty International publicly accused top US producers and distributors of computer technologies. Microsoft, Sun microsystems, Cisco systems and others were among those who supplied China with technology enabling restrictions on freedom of speech on the internet. They are in bind with Yahoo and Google providing Chinese government the Golden Shield, the largest political filtering system. Now, the side effect of various restrictions of the Internet access and information content filtering are people arrested for transmission of subversive information. Some of them are already dead. The censorship of the Internet is most severe in China and Burma, but number of other countries where the state-controlled information infrastructure enables, the Internet access is censored on a national level. The protocols on the foreign connectivity lines are restricted and filtered. Internet is only accessible in the state-controlled cafes, the e-mail communication is monitored. In 2000 the founder and editor of the online daily Ukrainian Truth Georgij Gongadze was murdered. He had been monitored by the state police for a couple of months prior to his disappearance.


Censorship appears in most countries of the world. Even in the countries generally considered democratic, such as the USA or the UK, sites and servers are classified according to their suitability or danger. You can't browse through Helmut Newton's web which is classified as sex/nudity or read about fascism. Proxy servers and search engines contain lists of unacceptable words and filter unsuitable sites. 50 80 percent of email is filtered and disappears without any rules and notice. Hidden restrictions shape and cut the information flows more and more and everything is closely monitored. The decision is upon the provider, employer, and is arbitrary and secret. Isn't the situation in Malaysia better in the fact, that things are censored simply if they're breaking the written laws? Reporters Without Borders have a record of tens of imprisoned cyber dissidents. The demonstrations (even in Paris!) for their release are mostly suppressed by the police.


Software and information are closely connected, maybe they are the two sides of the same coin. Software is just encoded thoughts, different for commercial monopolies, different for common people. Free software means free information and vice versa. Remember the case of Phil Zimmermann's Pretty Good Privacy. This encryption software was released with complete source code and led in 1993 to criminal investigation for export of forbidden technology. Now, there is everything available from operating systems to web and proxy servers for building communication infrastructure independent of political and economical restrictions and for sure it is massively used. Opensource ideas allowed the creation of personal, DIY, community and small business field supporting and running the samizdat of 21st century, global network penetrating any firewall. Don't think you can download hacktivism as Tor or Freegate. In 2007, swedish hacker infiltrated Tor network, meant to provide anonymous communication routing and gained access to hundreds of governmental and corporate emails, which he published later on his security blog. Staying free is a way of thinking, understanding, long term building of infrastructure and tools.

imminent future of the semantic universe


Maybe you already know, when I say 'online existence', i'm really not talking about sheeps on the counter in MySpace supermarket.


I talked about communities and the philosophy of their communication and organisation. Net is a textual and visual semantic space, in which various opinion maps meet. These maps are relationship networks of notions. Each map shapes up around an idea - open semantic maps, forced state system maps, maps with a concealed (commercial) idea, community maps. Each of these basically originates from a certain spiritual system, often in a postmodern mix of buddhism with traces of christianity, enriched with political, cultural, social or professional influence - students, punks, sharps, nazi, slackers, programmers, artists, dealers... The struggle arises as a result of the expansion of semantic systems with an imperative structure (mostly with democratic propaganda), which are not able to coexist in an information organism in an ecological way. The frontier between thought territories is based on individual attacks, counterattacks and defence. It can be said, that it is a kind of blade, dividing a realized future from hopeless dreams. The words *border* or *frontier* usually mean a line. Here, it is perhaps the surface of a multidimensional structure, which keeps changing, growing and withdrawing. The struggle doesn't happen at one place, but at all network nodes simultaneously. The response in a global electronic organism is immediate, information is pursued by disinformation. I mentioned several actions and stories which are significant, but there are thousands and thousands events which make the movement. Thought viruses the same way as the code are spreading avalanchelike, everything is happening online. Some people call it infowar, another say that the cyberspace is burning.


Time implodes. We're facing epoch, in which the development of technologies, media and transmission of information will be uninteruptible. Information technology will soon be ready to generate our reality realtime. Whoever will not be ready to react - be it through the technological level or structural complexity - will be sucked into an elaborate addiction pyramids of corporations. Many people decide voluntarily to follow this way. I feel better with those who perform to reclaim the future...



Indymedia.org - during demonstrations against the WTO in Seattle in 1999 CNN broadcasted news, which said that the police didn't use rubber projectiles against the demonstrators. The Independent Media Center (IMC) gave another story. While the CNN reporters interviewed the police spokesman and recorded their official version, IMC had over a hundred cameras in the streets. On its website, the IMC published proofs about rubber shots and provided a video, which documented the use of police guns. CNN was pushed to correct its news and inform about the violent conflict.


Do broadcasters tell us lies and disinformation? Why not read news from reporters who are real people living in the actual places of conflict? Yes, time to talk about different structures of organization, self-organization, decentralization.


Developers of the open source do form a similar global network around the idea expressed by the GPL license, which, apart from the economic aspect, has also some social impact regarding the rules of distribution. Open source is supported by companies, corporations, totalitarian governments or military subjects, which realized that it brings them profit. It is absurdly symptomatic, that the most wide-spread distribution of Linux is the Chinese Red flag. Structure of open source development is more relaxed than classical corporate hierarchical bindings with managed motivation, but in whole, it hardly can be called a community. Post-industrial, post-modern and post-cybernetic community has multi-layered relationships, more social aims - and personal dimension.


Communities are always somehow closed. They have their mantras and sound in-formations that unite them. In communities around graphic style it is a more complex network of ties, however, there is a greater independence, or sometimes abstract. The feature of information communities is the acquisition of new information, discussion, creation of opinion systems, spreading of alternative information, that is pushed out from the mainstream media or disinterpreted, information liberation, creation of information bases and sources with an open licence. Naturally developing community sites often contain a public layer - articles at a level generally accepted by other media. Under the systems of access rights there is a strong discussion core, a system of private messaging, user journals or blogs, tools for expressing identity and relationships between users (karma, friends, icon, nickname, avatar, etc).


The type of communication according to Flusser has generally got a tree type structure, in contrast to the pyramidal schema of centralized media. The discussion ramifies at all levels, everyone can reply, create new threads and forums. Corporate discussion can have the same features, however, the result is different. Discussion acts as an illusion of openess, where those, who posses power, generally don't respect the results, to say the least. They misuse them for their own aims and interpretations, or follow the discussion only to identify the potential opponents. This sometimes soaks even into Wikipedia. Didn't I mention Wikipedia yet, and other open publishing systems?


Within the community, the process and results of a discussion are integral and the arguments approach consensus. The deeper, the more specific is the communication of the community. As Flusser notes, modern national languages are more or less artificially created from many local ones in the era of letterpress from economical reasons - because they enable a higher impression. Thanks to the Internet, where the cost of text publishing is zero, we are digitally returning to the pre-literary period of oral communication with many varied communication codes and slangs of a mythical-ritual origin. Furthermore, they develop rapidly and change, which is another element of the protection of communication except the fact that information are strongly contextual.

information pursuit


In the early phases of the development of internet connectivity the information banks were the ftp archives of mostly academic institutions and the key to their resources was anonymous ftp and a command line of a terminal.


Computer guys played with BSD, the first free software. Also on commercial Unix, one could finger people, SMTP servers were open. Communication culture was based on the ideas of 70's post-hippie movement transformed into electronic sphere. The address of the FTP server could sometimes be found in printed magazines or a randomly obtained electronic text, and for connecting into, knowledge of control commands was necessary. An abundance of texts existed about drugs, underground zines, postmodern texts, one could find the Anarchist cookbook, Phrack. And yes, there was ASCII art and text games... However, only a relatively limited group of people had access to those information.
After a short episode with the hypertext system Gopher, a www boom followed in 1995-96. According to the graphical nature of the www, all was suddenly uncovered, the login and password and dark command line disappeared, information so far hidden in the net were at once made outright public. The number of personal and theme sites begun to grow, although they could only be placed at the predominantly academic or the emerging freehosting servers. And all of the sudden you could hear the phreaks saying: "Look, we have both Microsoft server and Novell here, on one machine under the table, free, connect to our network!" And it was Linux, breakout from the institutional bindings. One could easily envisage that on the academic website, only CV-type information was expected - photographs, information about professional interests, projects. The administrators didn't cherish other types of info. Pages of www had to fulfill certain rules of a server or institution, where located.


Freehosting provider censored the web for two main reasons - bandwidth and complaints about indecent content from companies and individuals hardened by threats of legal prosecution. Areas of unsuitable information rapidly profiled - porn, drugs, warez, hacking, cracks, guides on how to produce chemicals, spreading racism, fascism but also "different opinion". The scenario was simple. The author created his website, uploaded it onto the server, let everyone know about it. On other websites links to this site would emerge, thus more and more people would find out about it. Because all had been public, sooner or later someone who had found information unacceptable came across. Someone whose perception of the world was scattered, or the administrator himself who detected an increased data transfer and problems arise. After hackers, information liberators of late 80's, information nomads emerged, authors of websites incessantly driven from server to server because they could nowhere stay long.


thing.net is a network where The Yes Men, group of political artists and activists hosted a parody site dow-chemical.com. In 2002, the creators of the web sent out a false press release, in which Dow virtually admitted the responsibility over the Bhopal catastrophe in India, where the leak of chemicals killed 5.000 people and 150.000 have died in the following years as a consequence of the contamination of the environment. The press release stated that Dow would like to compensate the victims and face the environmental damage, however, the interests of the shareholders do not allow that and it would be a dangerous precedent for other corporations in the field, such as Exxon, Amoco, BP or Shell. The company Dow consequently filed a DMCA complaint on Verio, the Internet provider of the whole Thing network, achieving a momentary disconnection for 15 hours. Thing.net had its 7-year contract terminated and got 60 days to relocate to a different provider. The domain dow-chemical.com was redirected to Dow company's own Site. Free speech? Dow called it defamation, trademark infringement, and cybersquatting.

technological communities




czfree.net - a large WiFi network without an official administration structure, which is composed of hundreds of nodes and access points with a possibility of a free broadband connection. Parts of it's backbone are carried out by DIY 10mbit/s Ronja optical links, home-made at a fraction of price of the similar commercial products. A license dispute arose between Clock, the author of the original open source hardware design and a small company Alphawave belonging to one of the founders of czfree. Alphawave didn't provide all the documentation with the product, according to licence. The author's accusations ended up in developing the proprietary model of the laser by the company.


It all begins with a server, running free software, the true community heartbeat. Some personal computers and at least partially freely accessible space, small company, graphic or recording studio. Larger communities create strong information portals, they dispose of their own hosting capacities or Internet connection. Having control over the medium enables to set one's own rules, create a space which differs from the rigid and aimless economic conditions that are blocking alternative projects, from license arrangements or terms of service. Everything has to be paid for in the commercial sphere - information, patents, technologies, smallest piece of software, standards or for using certain formats. The high technological level of the communities provides them with some financial freedom. However, it can't be said, that the financial issue would be the growth factor of the communities. They do not grow on money, they grow with people.


We can think further. Own wireless connection, telephone connection, open source software, special operation systems, encrypted short message systems, cryptographic authorities, stream radio and video, multi-user virtual worlds and games.


From impulsive demogroups to the metropolitan networks, we are not talking the forefront of the development but the bazaar. Their equipment, a mixture of commercially sold parts and other self-produced independent technologies, while the role of the independent ones keeps increasing. Simply said - they cannot develop a new algorithm, but they know how to implement and use it. The central principle intertwined with this process is hacking of high-tech high-price equipment or programms, developing similar lo-tech devices from cheap DIY components, replacing commercial programms and formats with open source alternatives, utilization of the technology other ways than had been intended, removal of protection mechanisms, reverse engineering, ripping, cracking.


At the beginning, there were revolutionary ideas - technology for everyone. Local self-sufficiency against global conglomerates. From open software, the virus spread and infected the hardware. Maybe you know Arduino, open design physical computing device used for interactive artworks of all kind and operated by open Processing|Wiring programming languages which made it's way into the rank of stylish gadgets without the need of SONY logo on it. There is more and more open source firmware, open processor designs, MIDI controllers... As software intergrows the hardware and the generation of hackers gets older and gains the decisive influence in companies, the barriers fall down and many drivers, interfaces, formats and protocols get open and the remaining are under strong pressure. Fights for patented technologies that can make some money still remain. But the advantage lasts so short. The new development processes adopted from open software, which count on co-development or at least modding by the users have proved much bigger potential.