Thursday, February 22, 2007

QotW5: This Is Me

Identity plays a key role in virtual communities. In communication, knowing the identity of those with whom you communicate is essential for understanding and evaluating an interaction. Yet identities are also ambiguous because many of the basic cues about personality and social roles we are accustomed to in the physical world are absent. (Donath, 1996) People are free to redefine who they wish to be. In Peter Steiner's famous New Yorker cartoon, a canine computer user says, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." (Online identity, 2007) I can be America's Next Top Model, a TV star, a serial killer, Paris Hilton’s new BFF, anything. Genders can even be switched. How then, does one access the reliability of information and the trustworthiness of a person whom you’ve never seen? Every word and action online then adds to a reputation. People get associated offline with their online identities. The persona projected reel life is how others will perceive you to be in real life. With technology booming like no tomorrow, there are so many outlets where one can assume a virtual online identity like Internet forums, MUDs, IRC, instant messaging, MMORPGs, and social networking sites. I used to maintain a blog as an online identity. LiveJournal was where my virtual self existed.

I hopped onto the blogging bandwagon in 2004. LiveJournal (LJ) started in 1999 and is a virtual community where Internet users can keep a blog, journal, or diary. (LiveJournal, 2007) While others choose to use their real names so people will be able to tell who they are, I assumed a pseudonym (daydreamsindecember) but kept other personal information in the “User Info” page available. Each user has a "User Info" page lists of friends, interests, communities, and even schools which the user has attended in the past or is currently attending. As with any other blogging websites, I recorded personal snippets of my daily life as well as other interesting tidbits. Everything that I put online was basically “me”. I didn’t hold back any barriers when it came to showing my personality through my writing. I wanted people to be able to get to know me better even though it was only through words and pictures. Although users post extremely sensitive information ranging from “I want to kill my mother” to “I shagged David Beckham”, LiveJournal provides pretty good privacy facilities- The popular "friends only" security option hides a post from the general public so that only those on the user's friends list can read it. LiveJournal additionally has a "private" security option which allows users to make a post that only the poster can read, thus making their LiveJournal a private diary rather than a blog. (LiveJournal, 2007)

Yet despite the security measures, people still get their accounts hacked into. Jack (not his real name) is an LJ user whose account was compromised. He isn't sure how it happened, but one day he logged in and discovered a huge portion of his journal entries had been deleted. The attacker didn't stop there -- she or he also plundered his friends' "locked" entries (visible only to other friends) and reposted extremely private exchanges as public entries in Jack's journal. Although he quickly changed his password and fixed the problem, the damage was done. My friends were really upset and the bad feelings persisted," he said. (Newitz, 2003) Much of a modern person’s life is spent online nowadays. No matter how insignificant people may think their existence is, everyone is actually vulnerable to identity theft especially with so much personal information readily available. Identity theft can happen to anyone. You’ll never know if you’ll be left faceless one day. In this world where anything goes, never say never.


Donath, J. S. (1996). Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community. Retrieved February 21, 2007, from

LiveJournal. (2007). Retrieved February 21, 2007, from

Marlin, A. S. (2000). Online identity theft a growing concern. Retrieved February 21, 2007, from

Newitz, A. (2003). Defenses lacking at social network sites. Retrieved February 21, 2007, from

Online identity. (2007). Retrieved February 21, 2007, from

Saturday, February 10, 2007

QotW4: Pay It Forward


A simple sentence spurred Trevor, the 12-year-old hero of “Pay It Forward,” who thought of quite an idea. He described it to his mother and teacher this way: "You see, I do something real good for three people. And then when they ask how they can pay it back, I say they have to Pay It Forward. To three more people. Each. So nine people get helped. Then those people have to do twenty-seven." He turned on the calculator, punched in a few numbers. "Then it sort of spreads out, see. To eighty-one. Then two hundred forty-three. Then seven hundred twenty-nine. Then two thousand, one hundred eighty-seven. See how big it gets?" (Hyde,1999)

What initially began as a work of fiction by Catherine Ryan Hyde has since evolved into a real-life social movement not just in the U.S but also worldwide. The Pay It Forward Foundation was established in September 2000 by the author and others to educate and inspire students to realize that they can change the world, and provide them with opportunities to do so. It has even spawned a movie of the same name starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment as the hero. Trevor completes the assignment by helping three people. In return, he asks only that each individual help three more people, and request that they do the same. Likewise, the gift economy works the same way. A gift economy is an economic system in which help and information is offered without the expectation of any direct, immediate quid-pro-quo. A gift transaction involves a diffuse and usually unstated obligation to repay the gift at some future time. Gift exchanges should not involve explicit bargaining or demands that the gift be reciprocated, but a relationship in which there is only giving and no receiving is unlikely to last. (Kollock, 1999) For instance, free help and information are given out often to complete strangers whom one may never meet again. This is in contrast with the market economy where individuals in commodity transactions are self-interested, independent actors. No obligation exists after each exchange is consummated – the bottle of water purchased at a convenience store does not create an obligation to buy something there again. Commodities are not unique and derive no special value having been acquired from person X rather than person Y – a pound of flour is a pound of flour is a pound of flour when purchased at a supermarket. (Kollock, 1999)

Gift giving has come a long way since historic times. Lewis Hyde locates the origin of gift economies in the sharing of food, citing for example the Trobriand Islander protocol of referring to a gift in the Kula exchange as "some food we could not eat," when it is not food at all, but an armband or shell necklace made for the explicit purpose of passing as a gift. Today, the modern world has its own variations of the gift economy in the form of organ donations, blood banks, freeware communities, and free education, etc. (Gift economy, 2007) The Internet itself has developed several gift economies. A virtual community is one such economy that engages in open information exchange. I have been a proud member of one of them since the year 2005. Soompi Forums at is a Korean community that invites members to talk about anything and everything under the sun. Although gift giving in online communities are often in the form of opinions and information, the main draw of this community is the exclusive downloads of drama and music files. Drama and music lovers are able to get their hands on the latest in lighting speed. I for one am an avid fan of weepy Korean melodramas. Thanks to a team of dedicated members, it is possible to catch each drama episode just 24 hours after it has been broadcasted in Korea. Not only are they in high-definition quality, but also contain Chinese subtitles painstakingly translated and embedded. However no matter much effort is put in, the forum moderators and administrators do not require any fee to be paid to them, unlike some other forum boards that request “donations” for up-keeping. Other types of dramas (Chinese, Japanese, English) and music are also freely shared. While users are expected to be contributors of any kind and pay the favor forward, it is really their own free will whether they want to volunteer or not. Simple to say, once something is freely posted online it benefits recipients but generates no obvious reward to the providers of the information, beyond the intrinsic satisfaction that comes with contributing to the common good. (Lampel & Bhalla, 2007)

Nevertheless, giving is always easier than taking. Giving gives joy. And that may be the reason as to why many are so driven by their passion in investing so much time and effort on something that ultimately does not benefit them. As Trevor says, “Pay it forward!”


Gift economy. (2007). Retrieved from February 8, 2007, from

Hyde, C. R. (1999). Pay It Forward. Retrieved from February 8, 2007, from

Lampel, J., and Bhalla, A. (2007). The role of status seeking in online communities: Giving the gift of experience. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(2), article 5.

Kollock, P. (1999). The Economies of Online Cooperation: Gifts and Public Goods in Cyberspace. Retrieved from February 8, 2007, from

Saturday, February 3, 2007

QotW3: How to Make People Happy

As China tries to curb audio-visual piracy across the country, 2611 piracy cases worth 2.06 billion yuan in the audio-visual market have been uncovered and there are estimated financial losses of 990 million yuan. (China continues effort to curb online piracy cases, 2006) In Singapore, police arrested three people, including a student, in the city-state's first online music piracy case. The unnamed trio are alleged to have at least 20,000 MP3 music files "intended for distribution" on their computers. They could be jailed for up to 5 years and fined $SGD100,000. It was not immediately clear when they would be charged. (Singapore arrests three for music piracy, 2005) File sharing, for instance, is now one of the most common online activities. More than 60 million Americans have downloaded music and the number of file sharers continues to grow rapidly. (Oberholzer-Gee & Strumpf, 2005)People do not need to pay to listen to music anymore; music can be freely downloaded over the Internet. On one hand, the public are more than happy. On the other, content creators are enraged. Unfortunately, as information technology takes over the world, piracy will always be here to stay. The question is- Will this tension between them ever work out? Is there any possibility of reaching a compromise?

It is difficult to deny that the advantages of piracy are attractive. Back in the early days, computer programs were very small and the means of transfer was slow. Now with the vast increase of program size, the method of data transfer has evolved from computer disks holding 0.360 MB to recordable CDs holding 8oo MB or even more. The ways of transferring information have gone from giving your friend a disk with software, to local bulletin board systems, to the globe spanning Internet. Rising costs of software, and increases in technology have also made piracy more appealing. Methods have been developed so you can fit hours of music onto a single CD, play your favorite video and arcade games on your computer and watch DVD-version movies. Why pay so much money for a program when you can download it for free in just a couple of hours? Why should you buy a music CD with 10 songs, when you can have one with 10 of your favorite songs from the artistes you choose, for free? And how would you afford paying hundreds for a legitimate video game when you’re still a student? The affordability and sheer convenience are just among other factors that give people more reason than ever to practice piracy.

What has been done to stop piracy and help the content creators? Desperate measures have been imposed in a bid to protect their interests and stop the industries from being destroyed. Associations and campaigns try to educate the public and gain awareness. People have been arrested and charged. Copyright infringement laws give copyright ownership to the authors. Yet as far as copyright laws are concerned, they are enforced to ultimately benefit the public by promoting “the progress of science and useful arts;” that is, learning and knowledge. The means of this promotion is in the creation of laws that give creators exclusive rights to their creations for a limited time. Creators can benefit financially from their creations, which should give them an incentive to continue creating. Copyright law is intended to proscribe a balance between the interests of the authors and the interests of the general public. (Ovalle, 2005). Content creators and developers have suffered and will continue to suffer great financial losses.

Because there are so many people working in the shadows of the Internet, it is almost impossible to eradicate piracy totally. According to Joe Fleischer, co-founder of BigChampagne an online media tracking service, "What everyone forgets is that the Internet was designed to facilitate file transfers. It's completely agnostic." (Brown, 2005) There is also the temptation to make money by selling illegal programs. All one needs to become a pirate is a CD burner, which now costs very little, and the pirate's computer can become a virtual cash cow. How can piracy be killed when it’s being indirectly encouraged with the constant expansion of bigger and better technology? Look at the various MP3 players and iPods. Doug Morris, the CEO of the Universal Music Group, justified it quite succinctly: “These devices are just repositories for stolen music, and they all know it,” he said. In the music scene, record labels have been arguing for quite a while that they should be “paid for it”–specifically, trying to get Apple to pay them royalties on every iPod as reparations for all that stolen music that would be played on the devices. Microsoft currently pays Universal a dollar for each Zune device sold. It may not seem like a practical strategy in the long-term. Even if Apple had paid Universal a dollar for each iPod sold, that would only be 80 million. That would be less what Universal is making from royalties on iTunes songs. (Apple has sold maybe 1.5 billion songs. Universal has a quarter of the market–that’s 375 million songs, with about 70 cents royalties on each–$262 million and rising fast.) (Levy, 2006) But, this solution of paying royalties is one probable way that would appease both the content creators and public because whatever that they’ll be earning is “better than nothing”. Laws will never catch up with technology. You can catch one, but you can’t catch all. In my opinion, a move like this will help more rather than hurt. After all, technology and copyright issues has always been some sort of an oxymoron that blurs the line between both parties.


Brown, S. (2005). Why File-Sharing Piracy Will Never Die. Retrieved on February 2, 2007, from

Felix Oberholzer-Gee, K. S. (2005). The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales. Retrieved on February 2, 2007, from

Levy, S. (2006). A Universally Bad Idea. Retrieved February 2, 2007, from

Ovalle, C. (2005). What is Copyright? Retrieved on February 2, 2007, from

People’s Daily Online. (2006). China continues effort to curb online piracy cases. Retrieved on February 2, 2007, from

The Sydney Morning Herald. (2005). Singapore arrests three for music piracy. Retrieved on February 2, 2007, from