The Curious Case of a Black Browser: Cultural Values as a Predictor of Technology Use

Uploaded by GoogleTechTalks on 14.03.2011

And being rather new to Google, I wasn't really aware of what Google's kind of attitude was
towards raising the Internet so I thought what a great way to find out would be to bring
Andre in and have him give a talk. So he's here actually in town for the iConference,
which is happening in Seattle this week. And so I stole him away for a day to come in and
talk to us about raising the Internet and he's talking about Blackbird, which was a
browser that I knew nothing about until I got the abstract for this talk. Apparently
it was designed for the African-American community. And so I've--I'm very interested in this talk
and I hope the people at Google are as well. Anyway, so Andre, take it away.
>> BROCK: Okay. Gee, I don't know how to begin. I--can we do interruptions? Do I have to talk
straight through? >> Yes, you can do interruptions.
>> BROCK: Okay. So feel free to interrupt at any point if it gets too unwieldy and I
don't think I'll be able to finish in time. I'll just cut the questions short. But I have
a lot of information packed. This was a 40-page paper and now it's like a 15-slide presentation.
So there are going to be some gaps. And you'd--have be--I'd appreciate if you pointed some stuff
out that you think I might--I could probably add to the presentation. So, my name is Andre
Brock. I'm a faculty at the University of Iowa, the School of Library and Information
Science. As Cameron said, we were in the same PhD cohort at Illinois. And so my degree is
Library and Information Science as well. But I also have a background in Rhetoric. So one
of the things that drew my interest to this particular case was I love looking at Information
Technology products, but I also like looking at the ways in which people understand themselves
in relationship to the product. And so this case came up to be--this specific case study
came to be really interesting for me. So I call it the Curious Case of a Black Browser,
and my apologies to Benjamin Button or is that--so, cultural values as a predictor of
technology use. So when people say that I was on the Internet, they take for granted
that their friends will understand if they use a browser to access the Web. And it's
not difficult to see why. Browsers frame the content, media and protocols--we know it's
the World Wide Web--and they have become part of our social life, our work routines and
our leisure activities. As such, the browser is a cultural artifact. Defining it's users
as technologist and as social actors, it's part of our communicative infrastructure and
usually it's invisible to our literacy--information literacy practices until a rupture occurs.
One such rupture found form in the 2008 introduction of the Blackbird browser, which developed
by three guys at a company 40A, and it was designed to serve the browsing needs of African-Americans.
The cultural focus of the browser engendered a really kind of scaling response from black
and white Internet users alike because it apparently contravened popular assumptions
of the browsers' cultural neutrality. So where most tech products are evaluated in terms
of their ease of use, there user interface design or their feature set, Blackbird's reception
as an ICT artifact, and by ICT, which I'm going to say a lot, I mean, Information and
Communication Technology. So Blackbird's reception as an ICT artifact was colored by the racial
frames of the pundits, bloggers and commenters who discussed it. So let me give you a little
bit of my analytical background. This is what Blackbird looks like. This is the Mac version.
It's ugly. I will be honest and say that it's ugly. But we'll talk about it a little bit
more further in the presentation, but I just want to give you an idea what it looks like.
It's a branch of Firefox, and so I can use the plug-ins that Firefox uses. It uses basically
the same themeing set and everything, but there are some special features and I'll talk
about those in a little bit. So my research area is--I'm examining cultural biases encoded
within information and communication technologies and I pair them with insights into the technological
biases expressed to the culture of the users. And this is one approach to which cultural
and racial motivations can be apprehended as functional rationales for technology use.
So this lovely triangle here is the beginning of my--of an illustration I came up with to
talk to and show my research approach to ICT usage. This particular approach was originally
conceived by Arnold Pacey, but it also draws--I don't know how many of you who are com study
scholars--on James Carey's on communication technologies and belief. So Pacey described
technology as having three components. The first one is the material artifact or in this
case, the code; the second is the practices necessary to employ the artifact; and then
the third is the beliefs of the user. And Pacey argued that tech artifacts are usually
understood by describing either their form or their use. I contend along with Mr. Pacey,
who's much smarter than I am, that the cultural and social beliefs of technology users play
a significant part in the design, adoption, dissemination and use of any tech. And these
can range from unconscious design decisions based on physical traits, right-handed dominance
or to deeply held cultural associations between race and intelligence. So I have my triangle.
So this is--if you--if you read anything from Wired, or Gizmodo, or even the New York Times
technology section, they primarily focus on what Artifact does and what you can do with
it. Nobody really talks about Belief except for me because I'm a groundbreaking researcher
in this field. Okay. Yes, let me make sure I got the right slide here. So I employ a
structural approach to information technologies and I argue in my work that ICTs operate as
projects linking social structure and cultural representation. They frame this cursive representations
of cultural phenomena. So blogs, bulletin boards, advertisements, search engines and
the like, and they work to organize resources along particular cultural lines. The browser
represents a belief and implicitly unmarked technological space. But the openness of the
platform obscures the fact that most content available to the browser articulates very
culturally-specific representation of race, gender and class. And, yes, I am aware that
the browser gives you the freedom to navigate to those particular cultural resources that
may be of interest to you. But if you consider that many Internet users are technologically
unsophisticated, a lot of them never change the start page of their browser, or--well,
this isn't as bad as it used to be--many of them were AOL addicts and or are very much
aware of the AOL correlation of the Internet and are not necessarily as comfortable with
the Internet Explorer/Firefox freedom to navigate freedom. Okay. So my argument is that even
if it is an open space, that open space is still framed by a certain cultural and technological
considerations. For the U.S. and much of the West, the cultural representations dropped
primarily upon white identity markers and values. One of my favorite theorists, Richard
Dyer, argues that whiteness that once represents the sign of humanity and the marker of individual
agency. And my favorite example of my new favorite example is that if we consider recent
violent killers, Jared Lee Loughner of Arizona fame, is a troubled individual with no ties
to the Tea Party, although he shot a congressman and all other kind of stuff; while Major Nidal
Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter from last year, was suspected of being a radical Muslim extremist
despite a documented history of mental problems. So even in individual cases, there are still
cultural frames that--through which we understand content. So the browser shares this universal
and individual identity and it mask closely on to whiteness. So the universal traits of
the browser are, as I mentioned a few minutes ago, evidence to us access to and command
of temporal, geographic and economic networks, and informational. The widespread adoption
as a browser--of the browser as a communication device does speak to its universal qualities,
but it also obscures as a utility as an artifact of information networks that bolster economic
and social cultural hegemony. So if you think about the case where Microsoft was bundling
the IE browser with Windows installs and how Europe made them de--break it away from that
because what they found out was that that bundling led people to automatically use that
browser and not exercise their freedom of choice. I'm making the same argument that
browsers in general, not just browsers bundled with the system, but browsers framed the away
that we understand the way the Web works. There's an individual piece of this though.
The current generation of browsers enact a lot of personalization. So there's recent
that shows that a browser usage can be as individualized as a fingerprint. Users can
change themes, they can block advertising, and they can even alter style sheets of existing
websites. They encourage us to store confidential information, password managers, or maintain
a library of notable sites. So while many people use the same browsing software, few
will use them in the exact same way. And you this if you ever tried to use somebody else's
laptop, right? Because it is always configured in a way that seems completely--oh, can I
use retarded in a presentation? In a way that seems completely incomprehensible to someone
who doesn't use it everyday. So the experience of universal application and the individual
preference then prejudice its users to assume that the universal web configured to their
personal liking is similarly configured for everybody else who use it. And in this way
and in the same way, western culture assumes that the universal values that are part of
the mainstream are equally valid and desired by every individual under their sway. And
so that's the meat of my argument. So there's a lot of room--there's some wiggle room in
there because it is structural, but I try to account for the fact that there's individual
preference that is part of and yet diversely represented within cultural frames. Let me
know if I've lost you. I forgot my lovely animations. Hey, whiteness. Okay. The browser
is a software artifact, but it's also a communication product. So C. Edwin Baker, who wrote the
book Mass Media and Democracy, argued that communication products offer different benefits
depending upon the role that various stakeholders and [INDISTINCT] design, dissemination and
consumption. Media content contributes to the rationalization of particular behaviors
as well as affecting the significance of those beliefs. And he adds, and I'll quote him here;
"Even more than it's direct value to the audience, the media's greatest value maybe for third
parties. Even if they do not consume the media concept themselves, they can be wonderfully
or gravely affected by the media's influence on its audience's construction of reality
and on their resulting behavior." And my example for this is if you consider the adoption of
Facebook. Can I say Facebook at Google? Okay, good. So Facebook prior to, say, a couple
of years ago was becoming a watchword in certain text circles, certain educational circles,
but it still was at the tip of the--it wasn't quite at the tipping point where it became--gathered
a huge mainstream adoption. As recently as 2008, Facebook didn't have as many users as
Myspace. I know that's kind of hard to believe at this point. And so I don't know about the
communities that you come from, but the small town Louisiana that I grew up in and the neighborhoods
of New York, my parents and my grandparents referred to Facebook as the Facebook. Right.
And they have a very different understanding of why somebody would want to post their personal
lives on a platform that's available for people to basically consume at their [INDISTINCT].
Right. So there's a different understanding of Facebook depending on your level of technological
savvy, your level of technological experience and your attitude toward information technology
in general. Baker concedes that his arguments have to be significantly expanded to encompass
the Internet as a media product. For example, he reasons that the Internet's lowered copy
and delivery cost greatly increased economic incentives to provide everyone with the same
good, but also create parallel incentives to orient content to our universal motifs.
So sex is a really good one. Violence and good versus evil, and this leads to the sacrifice
of culturally-specific content. These universally understood themes are those that generate
the greatest profit and then leads to a further commodification of content. So, the content
that appeals to most people is the one that people makes the most--make the most money
off of. Porn would be a really good example. And so although the browser does not directly
represent or embody the content displayed within this interface, and I'm willing to
argue that with you, its role in delivering and framing that content connects it ideologically
to the cultural values transmitted within a content. Okay. So the meat of it. For my
analysis, I conduct an interface analysis of the browser briefly reviewed--although
I won't talk about it here. The--its history and practices of web browsers in general and
Blackbird in specific. I also carried out a close reading of blog posts and associated
comments on six blogs, mainstream--two mainstream and four African-American interest blogs to
understand how they conducted the browser--constructed the browser, sorry, in terms of their experience
and identities. And so my close reading focused upon instances of dispersive association between
cultural--culture and technology. So if somebody said, "I am X," and I use this product or
I think X people use this product in this way, that's the stuff that I picked up on
and coded for, right? Positive, neutral or negative across the general categories of
the blogs they are found on. So I separated out the tech blogs and general interest blogs.
And then deep observation and analysis were laid out against some of the critical race
framework that I've talked about briefly earlier, the whiteness in western culture and the technicultural
stuff; the Artifact, Practice, Belief triangle. So interface analysis and discourse analysis
is what we're going to talk about next. We'll start off with interface analysis and, again,
back to the lovely Blackbird browser. You can see it because this is a static webshot--screenshot.
But if you look directly under the address bar, you'll see a number of headlines under
there. What that is, is a moving ticker and it represents curated content that the browser
or the people behind the browser feel is of interest to its users. And then it has a number
of buttons across the top that represent various features. The ticker can be turned off, the
buttons cannot. There are also have Twitter posts from people who they consider--although
they don't give the algorithm or the rationale for who they selected other than that they
might be black--of people who are black and tweeting and then headlines from various African-American
new sources; so News One, Black Voices, Bossip, which is a black entertainment blog and the
like. Coffee. Because a Blackbird offers a number of features specific to its installation
that make it different from a standard Mozilla/Firefox installation. It's very similar. I don't know
if you guys have used the Flock browser at least before it switched to WebKit or a Gloss
browser, Flock was social networking in general and Gloss was women-centric including a pink
theme because women love pink apparently. Each variant features custom interface tweaks
designed to visually identify the blowers, so Blackbird is, strangely enough, black,
and as well as plug-ins, custom searches and other features to enhance the targeted user's
experience. Blackbird's creators include in-browser access so they have a side bar that you can
pop open to--using one of the buttons on the toolbar to Facebook and Myspace. But strangely
enough, they didn't offer a link to the largest majority black social network which is BlackPlanet.
And so they're expecting their users to leverage existing social networks accounts and they're
allowing their users to browse both their social networks and the Web simultaneously.
Flock does this as well. I think you can setup Firefox to do it, but it's kind of awkward.
So I'll talk about two of the features here. Well, actually, I'll talk about one of the
features here in the interest of time. But some of the things that Blackbird offers to
its users are custom Google search. Go ahead, Kal.
>> So I just have a question. The people who do this, the 40A, was their motivation in
developing Blackbird like, financial? Is this a product they were trying to market and sell,
or were they making revenue off of people using it somehow, or was it purely some sort
of altruistic "I'm going to port this for the African-American community?"
>> BROCK: Some of it was--okay, I'm sure there was some altruistic kernel of motive, but
one of the design issues for Blackbird that a lot of people who were discussing and picked
up on is that this was a very siloed system. So although you could import and access your
Facebook and Myspace profiles, the rest of the features, so they have a custom video
channel; they have a Digg clone called Grapevine; they have a couple of other features are only
for people who sign in to the Blackbird network. So they were planning on getting people in
using Facebook and Myspace and then keeping them there with the content and then serving
ads or whatever to them in that way. So it's a moneymaking venture, but there is a slightly
different core to it. Okay. So the features were the custom Google search, the news ticker,
which is preloaded, but customizable. There are pre-selected bookmarks featuring African-American
websites and websites of interest to African-American people. So, there was a 2008 Nielsen survey.
Apparently, black people go to the IRS website more than any other website that they're interested
in; BET came in third. It was IRS, and I think Yahoo!, sorry. That was 2008 though. I mean,
I guess people change. There's a feature called Give Back which links to Good Together, which
is a site that links Internet users with nonprofits, so they can donate through the browser and
those donations will be targeted to nonprofits. In this particular case, they targeted African-American
websites, which is a pretty unique feature. There's a customized video channel called
Blackbird TV available only to Blackbird users; local and job listings that are backed by
targeting advertising campaigns specifically for African-American communities. So in New
York and Atlanta, I've seen advertisements by the--in the Blackbird browser for businesses
to advertise on this and have a captive audience. And then the Digg clone Blackbird community,
which is the Browser Center Social Network, that lets user share content and vote on it.
It also offers one button access to Yahoo Mail, Hotmail or Gmail, the buttons offer
unread email notifications and you could switch between accounts without going to the address
bar. And then the previously mentioned Facebook and MySpace, again, you can switch between
them with one click. And so that's the browser. So the part I want to talk to about in part
because I'm an instigator, I want to talk about the custom Google Search that Blackbird
offers. So Blackbird has a search that is designed to present positive results about
African-American content to the people who are using it. And so I ran a very quick and
dirty custom search--I mean, quick and dirty search using the keyword Black Girls, as Gina
pointed out. I did Black Girls plural, not Black Girl singular. And so what I get if
I run the Google Search, this is--I'm not signed in, moderate safe search applies, and
these are the top five results. Sorry for the profanity on the Google Internet. These
are the top five results for Black Girls. If you just do a simple search, right? And
I won't leave that up there long. This is the Blackbird results for the same exact search.
The kicker for me, at least as a researcher, is that--and I've talked about this a little
bit with Cam--is that even in the fact that they got a custom search turn that shows websites
that are of interest. So you'll see is one of them; Black Enterprise is another.
And then the one, the odd one, The YBF, The Young Black and Fabulous, which is a gossip
site. But these are the ones providing the top results for the same topic. But they also
have this lovely ad box on the side with how Black Girls and Big Black Sex, which is problematic,
but that's another thing altogether. So, Blackbird--the creators of Blackbird, they contended that
the black content can be difficult to find using regular searches and given this quick
and dirty experiment, I will be tempted to agree with them. I run--for the paper, I ran
a much more comprehensive search for Barack Obama, and I couldn't replicate it for this
presentation because at this point, Barack Obama is the President and not a relatively
unknown candidate from Chicago. And so the search was also very similar actually at this
point. So, the White House website for Barack Obama comes up in 2010, where it didn't come
up on 2008. Let's see. Where else was I? Oh, the features differentiating Blackbird from
other browsers speak to 40A, the developer's concept, of embedded social networking as
one definition of a community, but also the inclusion of contents specifically layering
African-American, layers a cultural definition of community on top of the software Internet
instantiation and offers a compelling visualization of the explicit integration of ethnic and
technocultural practice. 40A's implementation comes across as a criticism of the structural
inequities of mainstream Internet content that privileges the information needs of middle
class male white Internet users, right? And it's not to say that other browsers are bad,
but if you are of a certain ethnic persuasion, and it doesn't have to be ethnic. We tried
Asian Girls. I've tried searches for able and disabled people and the searched tend
to come up kind of random. And so there's obviously a need for a targeted search results
if you're searching for information that is not porn. Okay. Racial Technoculture. As the
Web has matured and reached the [INDISTINCT] of the population, its Internet active nature
enables discussions about tech objects that expose technocultural beliefs. These discussions
construct or reconfigure the property's practices and beliefs that people bring to their understanding
of technology. So, my favorite example for my class is the Mac. When I asked my students,
and these are live Internet information science students, many of them want to be librarians.
Some of them we bring to the dark side and make them information scientists. But when
I ask them, "What type of person uses a Mac?" They were pretty unanimous in saying they
were snobs; they were--they were geeks--right? And they wanted to be hip, right? It has nothing
to do with the features of the Mac whatsoever, but that is their perception of a Mac user.
Not that, "Oh, the Mac OS doesn't crash that often," or, "Oh, the user interface is clean."
They don't care about that. They had specific ideas of people as tech users. And so in that
vein, this next part of the presentation briefly visits discussions about the design and deployment
of Blackbird by people who are Internet users on technology and cultural blogs. So to understand
this discussion, I select the six web logs as examples--four examples of how ideological
and cultural factors influence technology analysis. An operationalized online discourse--my
favorite word, "operationalized," I still hate that word. The selected blogs have a
post specifically addressing Blackbird and comments from their audiences that consistently
address the same topic. So, very few off-topic discussions. There are approximately 500 comments
total across all six blogs in this analysis. So the two mainstream sites--and I didn't
select as many mainstream because they had such a high volume of comments--were TechCrunch
and Ars Technica, the black tech blogs are BlackWeb 2.0 and Roney Smith. And then the
general interest black blogs are and The Angry Black Woman. And Roney Smith
and BlackWeb 2.0 represent examples of race-oriented, technology-focused blogging emphasizing coverage
of technology specifically impacting African-American communities. They don't limit themselves to
African-American oriented tech news, but their intent is to address the perceived lack of
coverage of technology by and about African-Americans. So--versus for Black History Month, BlackWeb
2.0 is running 28 notable diverse minorities intact, right? Which is probably something
that you won't to see on Gizmodo. is a local blog. It represent--it covers cultural
events interests--of interest to the black community in New York City, and the Angry
Black Woman is one of the leading online voices for African-American blogs addressing racism
in the various media. Now, the fun stuff. Okay. So, I guess I should read the comments
for you because it's long. So, now, I'll talk a little bit about it. So no one--this is
from--this particular quote is from TechCrunch. "No one is going to convince me that Google
is White by default unless you want to argue that being simple, quick and useful is "white".
LOL. The thing is that from an ideal perspective when a user logs onto the Internet they are
starting from a "unified" and "unfiltered" position and choose to navigate toward targeted
content. The difference here is that someone has developed a "tool" that controls and filters
the "experience..." I love these scarecrows--"right from the start. They've found a way to create
a segregated experience." So, discussions of Blackbird, this is a relatively unproblematic
example, believe it or not. Discussion on Blackbird on a tech blog tends to focus on
an ideal browser and an ideal Internet as the information and culturally neutral space
for Internet consumption that can be configured for individual browsing preferences. These
were viewers and commenters and they're focused on Blackbird's cultural features and functions,
hide the cultural and ideological nature of content while--even while speculating on the
utility of features for a perspective African-American users. So, TechCrunch, the guy who revolve--reviewed
Blackbird for TechCrunch is a guy named Robin Wauters, happens to be white and European.
And he mentioned Blackbird's content based add-ons, the video channels, the news ticker
and the like, and he said, "But their addition didn't seem like enough of an incentive for
African-Americans to download another browser." TechCrunch's commenters weren't as circumspect
in their understanding of the race utility of a browser. One said this is an argument
and I'm not--I didn't... >> Anonymize?
>> BROCK: Thank you. I didn't anonymize the comments so--and I can provide you a route
if you're interested, so you can go and see the--I didn't modify these comments in any
way. So this argument summarizes mainstream perceptions of the Internet as a neutral cultural
space. And the highlights and aspect of TechCrunch is discursive position on technology that
information technologies are objective and it's only the intervention of certain social
and cultural forces that render them as ideological tools. JDB's use of the word "segregated"
clues us into the types of technology that are non-normative and ideological informational
tools exemplifying the interests of Black Internet users. So this is the nice one. These
are the not, not nice ones. "If Obama starts doing all kinds of nutty stuff, will the standard
search return news articles and criticism and the Blackbird search censor such things?"
And my favorite: "So it," Blackbird, "comes pre-loaded with links to Public Defenders,
and tips on how to beat weapons charges." And, "If the browser, as the article states,
skews results away from potentially more informative and authoritative sources of information in
favor of those that are more culture centric, then it really is doing its users a disservice."
Now, these comments are from Ars Technica. And the Ars Technica review was done by David
Chartier, who also blogs on the Unofficial Apple Weblog. And his review actually begins
with this sentence, "The Internet may have created a largely colorblind world web that
connects users with just about any information they could ever want." Now, Chartier as opposed
to the Wauter's review saw the Blackbird custom search as a positive implementation of the
developers' intentions to deliver cultural content, but overall argued functionally that
the Blackbird feature set was nothing new. His articles restrained and it kind of reflects
Ars Technica as a community of practice because it understands Blackbird as a tool that serves
a community of practice. Users who happen to be black that want to go in the Internet,
right? But the comments that follow Chartier's review, several of the Ars Technica audience
members offer these less restrained and racialized frameworks to describe Blackbird's feature
set. And although the last comment is less overt than the first two, together they work
to represent the spectrum of colorblind discourse displayed on Ars Technica's comments. The
first comment is an example of deviant black behavior--oh, I'm sorry. The second comment
is an example of deviant black behavior as a cultural touchstone for Blackbird's intended
feature sets. So, of course, only black people have used public defenders or meet weapons
charges. While the last comment employs a rational perspective that ignores the cultural
perspectives found in mainstream content and privileges that content as being more valid
and reliable than culture centric. Okay. Now, it wasn't all that. Like, there were--TechCrunch's
in particular, but also Ars Technica to a lesser extent had positive racial interpretations
of Blackbird's potential. But true to the size Ethos, the function of Ethos, they've
remained central in the browser utilities. So this guy says, "Blackbird isn't about 'walled
gardens' or 'separatism'. It doesn't take you to some blacks-only internet. It doesn't
wipe your hard drive if a white person tries to use it. It's a product designed to appeal
to the needs and wants of blacks. You can disagree with the viability of this model,
but there's nothing wrong with the motivation." And so these comments focus on Blackbird's
features while skipping over the negative stereotypes of blacks. These comments are
closer to Chartier in particular, his framing of Blackbird as a community of practice, and
these sentiments are critical of the colorblind paradigm of Internet use that earlier commenters
supports. So--and this is an aside, "I am an avid surfer of the gaming blogs and I keep
in touch with TechCrunch and Ars Technica because they're relevant to my interest. And
I find that anytime race is introduced into a conversation or gender, that the comments
quickly veer from a community of practice thing to let me show you how masculine I can
be by putting down or how mainstream I can be by putting down other cultures." So these
are not atypical comments for a racial or gender conversation. It just so happens that
they were focused on a particular product. And so these comments also serve to highlight
another trope of colorblind ICT usage that Blackbird's users will be forced to segregate
themselves from the rest of the Internet for making the choice to use Blackbird. And this
is something that also comes up in the Black Box. And I'll talk about that in a second.
The technology blogs' combination of technophilic ethos and colorblind ideology speak to the
norming of technology as a human/white discourse of enterprise where efforts by non-whites
to stake out space within the realm are [INDISTINCT]. Questions? Am I going too fast? Okay, good.
Where the mainstream blogs feature comments critical at Blackbird's feature set in black
culture, the black tech blogs critically assess Blackbird features through their potential
benefits to the black community. And so here's someone from the BlackWeb 2.0 website saying,
"It is true that if one is very interested in African-American perspectives on news and
social issues, one has to be savvy in the use of search engines, which do not cough
up those results without good Google-fu. As a white person with an anti-racist ideology
who is interested in reading from Black perspectives, I would have downloaded and used the browser
just out of curiosity." And so the reviewers, Roney Smith on his own blog and Rasheen at
BlackWeb 2.0, Roney Smith noted that many African-American users access the Internet
at work or school where Blackbird can't be installed because of administrative policies,
which limits potential use and adoption. So that's a valid criticism and it also speaks
to the possibility that--it also speaks to the truth that many desktop PC users still
have work as their primary space where they use the Internet. And so this--because Blackbird
needs to be installed and you have to participate in those networks within the browser, many
people won't--as many people won't use it. Rasheen of BlackWeb 2.0 praised the video
channel apparently looking for Black Girls on YouTube is as problematic as looking for
Black Girls in Google, and was encouraged by Blackbird's stance on philanthropy. However,
he argued that Blackbird isn't innovative because, as Chartier said, its core function
has duplicated pre-existing features that power users could install--uninstall on their
own. There was a segregation argument over both of these--over all four of the Black
Blogs. This is April from April is a really experienced web user and
she has a pretty decent blog empire of her own going on. And she says, "I don't need
anyone helping me find Black content. How is my web experience enhanced by letting Blackbird
filter information through their browser?" And so this comment represents a prominent
perspective--the Black Blog segregation argument against Blackbird. This argument is that a
browser that's dedicated to information about black people limits access to the Internet
and stifles black innovation and interest in creating content online. Mind you, the
browser does not do that. The browser allows you to use WordPress or Blogger, it allows
you to use whatever coding tools you need to create. But their argument was that it
is a segregation device. And so to support this argument, these bloggers and commenters
pointed to features that constrained their freedom. So April's, in terms of her Google
search and the curation of the comment, her question was, how would people--who did they
pick to pick to select this content? Who are their experts? Who are their tastemakers that
decide to do this? Another one noted that Blackbird in a way that many Mozilla installs
go hijacked her default browser status. And so it automatically took over her pre-existing
settings and she was unable to--she had to go into the registry to edit it to get it
to stop doing that, which is if she wasn't a power user she wouldn't have been able to
figure that out. Okay. These--while making the segregation argument though, there is
something else interesting going on and that there are articulating a perspective that
complicates notions of the digital divide, that all blacks are equally skilled in finding
content conducive to their information needs because they have to be, right? Because they
have to do an additional level of filtering for the results that they get through search
engines or the like, right? And compare this with the perceptions of black browsing activity
on the mainstream blogs where criticism focused on the cultural deficiencies of Black Internet
users. So the black bloggers construct a positive image of black community in their own spaces
and also in the comments on the mainstream blogs because April is an active commenter
on TechCrunch as well even while critical efforts made by the developers on their behalf.
Okay. Wow, 30 minutes. Gee. Yes. Okay, so conclusion. The Digital divide is insufficient
to understand the information needs of minority users. So minority users are just as diverse
as mainstream users, but often labeled under the stereotype that they can only be understood
[INDISTINCT] category. The stereotype can be particularly limiting during the design
and dissemination phase of ICT artifacts as monocultural influences may lead companies
to focus on users that are most like themselves for their most valued customers. ICTs frame
and--second one. ICT frame and configure discourse. ICTs do not operate in a vacuum. They alter
time, format, ethos and tones. So if you think the ways in which instant messaging and text
message have changed the vocabulary and expectations of feedback from your friends and family,
right? Browsers do similar work for that, right? Because in many cases, they frame that
type of messaging stuff. Blogs in particular are susceptible to this because they're primarily
browser-based and the Internet--I can't say that word, theory where a non-anonymity--anonymity
plus lack of feedback equals people who turn into raving butt holes. So they change the
way people operate with relation to each other and with relationship to information. Also,
browsers disguise the ideological intent of the content they serve through sheer volume.
It's one of the reasons why search engines are so popular because they help us to make
sense of the sheer amount of information that we are faced with everyday. And there's a
reason why Google is the number one homepage for many people and the first place they visit
because that's how you figure out where everything else on the Internet is. Right. Search engines
can contribute to the confusion though depending upon their rank--ranking algorithms. Their
results can reflect the interest of advertisers or the aggregate interest, again, are the
most profitable community to serve. Okay. Number three: lessons for cultural design.
For--in--when designing any technologic artifact, not just the browser, ethical and ideological
considerations are the target communities' information needs is necessary. So bring in
the power users, bring in the tastemakers and the people who are the influences in a
particular community as well as regular run-of-the-mill blue collar, whatever you want to call it,
people who are going to use the device occasionally because they will all have different perspectives
on how something should be used and that will be of value. So this is contextual inquiry
user--and I can't--I forgotten all my [INDISTINCT]. Okay. So tech designs should consider the
needs of a diverse set of users. For example, for videogames, consider allowing users to
configure avatars across a wide range of body types, skin colors, hairstyles and clothing
styles, for software artifacts, the diverse focus groups. And a really good example of
a software artifact that did not have a cultural consideration is Twitter. So, recent discussions
online and in the media about the blackening of Twitter reveal that high levels of smartphone
penetration in African-American neighborhoods plus cultural discourse styles that doesn't
or signifying, whichever you prefer, lead to a software platform and a content platform
that is dominated by black cultural discourse topics. Okay. Number three: lessons--I mean,
number four: lessons for online communities. The ethos of your site plays a large part
and the type of discussions your audience generates. So if you are an online community
designer or a web blog owner who wants to foster community in your comments, it is very
much on you to decide how your community will interact with themselves and with the wider
world. Although many considered the line between freedom of speech and uncivil discourse to
be a very fine line, particularly in the west, the reality is that the anonymity, S-unanimity
of online discourse removed social innovations against impolite discourse. And that's something
to keep in mind if you are intent on creating feedback platforms or feedback forums where
people will give you advice on how your program should work or your artifact. Okay. So, last
word. The blogs examined here were critical of Blackbird's feature set for a number of
practical reasons, but also for a number of shared beliefs about what information technology
and what 2.0 should do. In this, they highlight constructions of technocultural identity shaped
around ICT practices and technological determinism so the Internet makes us do certain things
or allows us to do something or certain things. But racial frames, however, also shape these
technocultural identities. For information science research it's of particular interest
that through the racial intensions of the browser, the various respondents mediate racial
identity through their understanding of information technology and information literacy. Right.
By examining how these web users interpolate identity and technology through their western
cultural--American really, cultural frame racial affiliations, we can gain a greater
understanding of how belief and ideology, seeks information technology use implementation
and design. Done. Oh. Thanks. And this is my contact information. If you--if any of
you wish to contact me, and then this paper among with other stuff that I've done is at
the website. Questions, comments, criticisms?
>> So what's the status of Blackbird today? >> BROCK: They released the Mac version in
late 2009. I could not find any--and that's my own unsophisticated attempts. I could not
find any sign of what their browser--their share is, but it's definitely not worthy enough
of being mentioned when people are talking about which browsers are the ones that people
use the most. I'm sure it's less than 1%, easily. And there are no discussions of it
in the black tech communities that I follow. It's just not there.
>> So when it was released, was there it? Any positive response or was it all...?
>> BROCK: I'm like, "Ooh, black people made a browser." And then there were some people
in TechCrunch who said, you know, perhaps Mozilla should consider hiring these guys
to do cultural design even though their user interface was ugly, but just the intent, right?
Bringing a diverse perspective to saying what type of content would be relevant. Yes.
>> So, I mean--oh, sorry. >> I was going to ask, how much do you think
the benefits for what they're trying to get at came from the browser itself versus, say,
getting a customized experience to the search engine because you said that, you know, Google
is sort of a new gateway for a lot of people [INDISTINCT].
>> BROCK: It's a little bit of both. Constructing a custom search engine, although it's hell
of a lot easier now than it ever has been, is not something that most people are going
take on their own. So providing it in the form of a browser, which people are already
familiar with, gives them--gives a larger number of people access to this type of search.
As one commenter said, it does take a fair amount of Google-fu to use the term black
in anything to find stuff that is not porn-related. I've had that--that experience happened to
me while I was doing my dissertation, right? And so--and I think I'm a relatively capable
search engine user. And so putting it in this particular space made it more accessible than
perhaps it would have been in any other way, any--there's really no other challenge that
could've used for [INDISTINCT] a search engine in particular that people would have taken
up on this in particular. Although people are now using Twitter as a way of finding
information, I'm still not convinced of the utility of that, but that's a discussion for
another time. >> See, I'm a librarian at heart though the
filtering just makes me kind of--you know. I'm from Korea. I'm from a country where our
government is actually filtering the results. And there's North Korea where they're just
totally blocking the entire usage or who knows what they're doing there. And I don't know
because I can't read content from, you know, North Korean and if I go through the Korean
website. And it just feels like we're trying to shield the users from what the Internet
truly is, right? We're trying to sort of guide them to, you know, the safe results and the
results that whoever--the group of people who's controlling this, things just benefiting
the community, and that just makes me kind of anxious.
>> Well, I mean, how does that any different than, you know, Google engineers deciding
how the search engine links relevant results and what is determined to be relevant?
>> But you're not considering a particular... >> BROCK: It's not government interface.
>> Well, but, I mean, it's the same thing as like, you know, [INDISTINCT] making some
decisions about how they're going to link results and what they're going to include.
>> I mean, maybe part of it is the perception in this case. I mean, that is always going
to be the first search engine you see, right? So, it's a question of choice where it could
make it easy to choose what search engine you want. I think Google has always said we
believe that people should have a choice about what search engine they want. We're going
to do our best to make the best one. But if there's something else that works better whether
it's a custom Google search engine or something else, then it should be easy to make that,
the default browser. It seems like in this case, they made that somewhat harder. I don't
know the details, but--and, I mean, can you change the landing page or do you always--the
start page or do you always end up...? >> BROCK: Oh, you can change it.
>> Okay. >> BROCK: You can change it. But for--I mean,
for their intents and purposes that is the one that they feel best serves the base users
needs, so I can understand that. Okay, kind of to answer your question, but also to answer
yours. So, to me, the interesting thing about your question is that there's an implicit
assumption that Internet information in and of itself is a good, right? And so there's
a case that--in which people often use that unfiltering information is a bad, right? Because
people have--should have access to all the information they can ever be need. And then
especially when you want to bring governments into it, then people really get kind of twitchy.
But my opinion is the government is necessary in many ways to ensure that we have a civil
society. So the idea of the police, right? Given--without police, you would have lots
of cases of, say, I don't know, domestic violence, rape, robbery, murder because people will
be people, right? But the government has decided that it is in their interest to provide a
service that allows people who are not physically strong or necessarily financially strong,
although that could be argued, to have protection from elements who would prey on them and commit
crimes against them. And in some ways, I think the government and commercial institutions
have a responsibility when serving content to both--provide for a much more diverse set
of audiences, but also to understand that many of their users are not tech-savvy. Many
people do not ever do custom searches or even add multiple search engines to their browser
toolbars, right? Most of people--I know many people when they go to the Internet to find
a specific website, they type it in the Google box the website they want to get to and then
click on that search result to get there, right? And so there's a lot of unsophisticated
information usage. And so knowing that many people are not technologically literate and
informationally literate, and that in many cases we allow minors to surf the Internet
unsupervised, I think there is a responsibility to provide results that are not heavily dominated
by porn results. But that's just me. I mean, the key for me is that at least for me--for
this particular exercise is that black girls is a fairly innocuous term, but the results
that you get from that term are problematic. >> But I think it's the same with--you know,
I tried White Girls just now and a lot of the results that you get is porn. I tried
Asian girls and it's the same. So, it's the problem with the content itself...
>> It's the girls. >> ...that a lot of people are generating.
No, no, no. I tried black guys, too. So even if I search with just men, I get a lot of,
you know, homosexual porn. So... >> BROCK: But is that okay?
>> Well, I mean--so, I think we're focusing too much on the porn. So, for example, if
I'm Korean and I have a website that caters to Korean people's need and it filters the
results that I see--the results that are positive about Korea. But I think it's important for
us to also see the other side, right? If people, you know, there are people who hate Korea,
and I want to know what their reasons are and I want to be there so I can argue with
them and sort of educate them why that's not true and you should, you know, consider a
different kind of perspective. And I think maybe we're sort of missing that if we're
trying to just provide the results that are just catering to their needs. Sometimes want
we want is about what we need, right? >> BROCK: But catering to the needs means
that most people are sexual beings? Yes, I'm not uncomfortable with that.
>> I mean, this is a non-sectarian question. But it seems like this is--if you take this
to the extreme, it was like--okay, so a lot of the reaction from this--for creating this
was because there's this cultural hegemony of whiteness on the Internet, and so we want
to provide something for black people and allow the reaction against Blackbird was because
it seemed like there is this assumption of black hegemony of this is what black identity
is on the Internet and this is the Black Internet. And a lot of black people reacted negatively
against that. And so it seems like, then you take this to the extreme. It's like, where
are you going to go? You're going to have purely individualized technologies? I mean,
and then how do you actually design for that? Because what role is culture play and that
kind of design context. >> BROCK: I think--and this kind of relates
to Gina's question, too. I think the ultimate--the end result will be search agents--individual
search agents. And so you will have some software tool that you can query and that will bring
you information tailored to your needs whenever you want it, as opposed to a general Google
search box. That being said, I think something will be lost in the translation because by
focusing only on the narcissistic individual and what his individual--his needs are, you
kind of miss what the larger community does. And so that's why I bring the police and the
government back in because somebody has to have a compelling interest for the wider society,
and individuals are not wired to necessarily think of what the community needs. It will
an abstract, but most people are not abstract thinkers. It's like, you know, master's students.
Oh, I'm sorry. >> So, are there any questions from the VC
before we kind of wrap up? >> Hi. Thanks for presenting. What I'm curious
about is there are more and more social efforts and self-assembling communities, one of which
is Rockmail, which is a browser that has been similarly skin integrated with Facebook, as
a particular community. But, more and more of these all over the place. My question is
how the self-assembling communities in a social browser would contribute to or avoid the marginalization
that you're talking about today. >> BROCK: I don't know if they can. It's--I
mean, the discussion--the difference between assimilation and accommodation is something
that is played by minority community since the beginning of the modern era, right? And
so, I think Rockmail fits very neatly into this--on this line between community of practice
and community of interest, right? Where it's people who wants to use facenet--Facebook
and a browser versus people who just use Facebook to find their friends. And so this browser
brings both those worlds together. But Facebook is another one of those things which is intensely
personal and in many ways operates according to the principle of homophily, right? Where
your friends will be in many ways much more like you than they will be like other people's
friend, right? And so--and I mean, it will allow people who have formed groups of social--of
peers, social and otherwise through Facebook, Rockmail will allow them to associate with
them, but what chances to get them to interact with the outside. And I don't know if that's
necessarily a bad thing. I never thought that being black would limit me from any opportunities
that I would ever have. I just kind of run into those obstacles from time to time. But
that being said, I find immense value in seeing the world from my identity perspective and
I can't help but think that people who use Rockmail, or that people came up with Blackbird
or use Blackbird, have some similar intensions, like, there's something positive to be said
for seeing world in this way. So I don't--does that kind of answer your question?
>> Sort of. As an engineer, I naturally think of a browser as a component that is culturally
and, you know, identity sense neutral. Now, whether it ties in other pieces of the social
interaction can stray from that neutrality and in some sense having a browser, like,
either Blackbird or Rockmail does not keep you from getting to--does not prevent access
to all channels that you might want to find, but it does lead you--like you said, with
particular in the browser and likewise was Rockmail and its social features--it will
lead you to like-minded people in a particular channel of thinking that you might be searching
for or searching around and vice versa. >> BROCK: Okay. I agree. So, let me just try
this from an engineering perspective. As an engineer, the intent is design something that
is functional and of use, right? And for software artifacts, that functionality and use is in
many ways integrated with our perceptions of the world as information creatures, right?
For more physical artifacts, those constraints are often limited by material aspects. So
geographic location, the type of materials available, whatever. For the browser in particular,
a lot of people are inclined to think because we are information people that there should
be no limits, right? But that in itself is a cultural perspective, right? Gina pointed
out earlier that the Korean government does think that there should be limits on what
type of access should be had, what type of news should be had. I would argue the American
government does the same thing. So even if we desire that there are--that there should
be no limits, there will always be cultural and social limits imposed upon us and the
browser goes a long way towards addressing those things, but there are instances, and
I call them ruptures, where we understand through that rupture that there's a hegemony
of ways in which we should see the world and then there are people who'll see the world
in a slightly different way. So, I'm not saying that the browser is a bad thing. That's never
my intent. I'm just saying that--and this is one way that we can understand that for
many people, the browser does not serve their information needs. This unlimited, unfiltered
access to this wide world of information content is in many ways prohibitive to their experience
and enjoyment of the Internet. And that's a problem.
>> Okay. Thanks. >> BROCK: Thank you. Thank you for your question.