Monday, April 2, 2007

Beyond Kathy Sierra

Quite frankly I never heard of Kathy Sierra before last week. I could say here thatg I have been a loyal reader of her blog for a long long time, but reality is that I first heard about her when all the blog postings came in about the death threats aimed at her. And obviously a lot of people are interested in this subject:
Most reactions throughout the blogosphere vary from supportive, to shocked, and in fact James McGovern was one of the first who had a somewhat skeptical reaction to Kathy's story. I think this was quite brave by James, and although his later postings about the subject were not as good in my opinion (but I suspect James is going quickly for the 1000th blog posting so he can retire as a blogger as he announced), he has brought up some very interesting points, that even go beyond the whole Kathy Sierra case.
I do not know Kathy Sierra so I do not have any opinion on how she has handled this whole situation, although generally I do feel that you should never bend to those that use violence. That was my opinion last year with all the fuss about the cartoons in the Danish newspaper, and that is my opinion now. But maybe it is different if it happens to you, I don't know. Nevertheless, I wonder what the motive is of people threatening a blogger. It wouldn't surprise me if we are "just" dealing with some bored teenagers who just want some attention, kind of the same breed as those people that write computer viruses (still can't think what's so gratifying about that).
The key about the whole discussion goes beyond Kathy Sierra as I said earlier. James pointed in his post to the single largest threat of the Internet in general:
"In cyberspace it is very easy to become someone else and very difficult at times to prove that you aren't really you"
This has proved to be very difficult in the past and present (phishing, threats on discussion boards, electronic voting etc.), and it will become even a bigger issue in the future. With the advancement and expansion of new forms of collaboration, social contacts and transactions that use the Internet, identity is becoming the key issue. Obviously there is a growing number of people that have a need to take on another identity when being on the Internet. How often do you see nick names, avatars or email aliases that reflect exactly the name or appearance of its owner? Even with some very popular blogs, the writers chose to use a nick name, probably because they were writing about quite some confidential information on their company.
Anonymity / namelessness is very valuable to many people on the Internet, but it will become a complicating factor in the evolvement of the Internet. Especially as it appears as though increasingly virtual spaces / worlds and the real world are blending, this becomes increasingly problematic. Particularly because legislation is still in progress and absent in this area. In fact some people will even argue that the Internet should not be subject to legislation from any country (tell that to China...), and should be subject to the self-cleaning capacity of the World Wide Web and its users.
Which leaves us with the very interesting observation that on one hand the current evolvement of the Internet has the promise of providing maximum transparency, but on the other hand it is threatened by the obscurity of its users. Information becomes transparant, users don't. All the ingredients are there for a dialectic process of change.

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