Satire is a ‘democratic tool’, says blogger

Conference tackles website design and the ethics of the web's 'new journalism'

The resurgence of satire as an important weapon of democracy has been one of the benefits of blogging and mashups, local blogger Russell Brown told the audience at the recent Webstock conference.

The conference, held in Wellington at the end of May, covered subjects as varied as the need for a new ethical framework to deal with the “new journalism” of video-camera mashups and blogs, to the patchy evolution of Firefox and related browsers. New structures for websites and a blind user’s web experience, using “assistive sound technology”, were also covered.

Brown, a former Computerworld staffer, tackled the hard ethical questions. Under mainstream media conditions, he said, news is where the journalists are, rather than vice-versa. When amateur “journalists” with handicams and blogs join in, we have to look again at the systems of ethics and the administration of news-gathering.

But, one of the benefits of blogging and mashups, he said, is that they have led to a resurgence of satire, an important weapon of democracy, which was dying in the mainstream media.

He cited the recent controversial anti-Telecom advertisement broadcast online, which subverted footage from Telecom’s own advertisement, as a topical example. He was unimpressed with the newly “honest and open” Telecom’s decision to shut down the satirical take on its ad.

Brown also showed Star Lords, a humorous mashup of scenes from the Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings movies, which, he said, was the creator’s first experiment with video-editing.

In his “Let go and allow the user to control their own experience” presentation, Russ Weakley described the development of a site for the Australian Museum Online.

The website was, to use an acronym, HORID. Content was “hard” to find and often “old”. The front page often didn’t really “represent” website content and navigation was “illogical” and content “dull”, he said — not an unfamiliar experience with the web.

By focusing the structure on a search engine and tags that would link information without the same keywords — for example, to illuminate a question on bird behaviour by references to similar frog behaviour — Weakley sought to make the tour around the site more like a free walk through a museum. He did this by avoiding the typical hierarchical division into subjects so often seen on portals. The latter tends to divide content into silos and silos contain silage — rotting matter — he said.

The history the Netscape, Mozilla and Firefox family of browsers was presented by Ben Goodger, who is now with Google. It is a story containing many elements, including how a dotcom “bubble” company that lost its impetus was then forced into a hierarchical mode.

Other topics included the conflict between rejuvenation of the code-base, the increase in functionality and shipping schedules, and the battle to gain the cooperation of a user community in open-source mode.

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