ParisWeb 2012 : Tailor the web for the society you want

Yes ! A third contribution related to ParisWeb 2012 ! Because this event covered so much of the web that is deserves to spend pages on it. The web is not just a tool. It has an impact on the society. The way you use the web has an impact, the way you work for the web has an impact. I am gathering here some talks that touch some of the problems I find key for the “web society”.

Hacktivism. Origin : hack and activism. Fréderic Bardeau @fbardeau is working for Agence Limite, a web agency which serves non governmental organization to help them to build their digital strategy. Frédéric announced after few seconds of talk that he was not part of the cyber-enthousiast (like everything from the web is super cool), but rather a person with strong opinion, value, and positions [1]. He reminded us the definition and history of activist and hacking, to lead us to an approximate definition of what the hacktivist is, a.k.a someone who likes to crack things, perform, code and use digital communication, driven by art, politic or transgression. He admitted that this definition was flexible depending on regions, periods, aggressiveness, political commitment… But at least based on that we could start to discuss the new usage of hacktivist in the society today. Frédéric quickly put aside the pseudo innovative activities such as hackatons, barcamps, hackerspace, fablabs, open data. Not that these are not interesting, but their actual impact on the society and its directions are closed to zero. His favorite example being : ask web developers to solve the problem of starvation on a hackaton week end may not really be appropriate. He mentioned one special niche in which he could see some impacts of hacktivism on society, it was with non governmental organisation. He witnessed those two population helping each other (with always care on each side not to compromise their value and principle, which could lead to slow collaboration). As a concrete example he mentionned the possibility for NGO to be trained on technology to communicate anonymously and to better understand digital security. He ended raising the relevant question such as how making a sitting in the street – which is today a usual protest act – could be transformed into a digital act. Or another one, how class war could be transposed to the web.

Everyone getting tracked. Stéphane Lebarque @slebarque reminded the purpose of tracking a web visitor : catch and distribute user data and behavior in order to deliver to this user (which becomes exclusively a consumer, here) some targeted advertising and services. Stéphane reminded that the tracking was just getting intensified with the collection of data such as localization, service consumption, combined with the multiplicity of devices (the more you have, the more they leak data about you). He mentioned several initiatives to rationalize this tracking trend, with aliaz (to have a unique identity on the web) [2], usage of privacy icons as promoted by Aza Raskin [3], Do Not Track work of W3C [4].

Working for the web, staying sane. We all know that the best consumers of working force on the web, – even before web agency  – are IT service companies. Hiring thousands of engineers, just like plants used to hire factory workers. One presentation that I felt sensitive and fair was given by Thibault Jouannic @thibaultj, a recent independent developer who left this kind of company to become free. His speech was about the courage to run away. He promoted the notion of being coward, and making sure you stay sane enough to recognize when you are in a situation in which you would loose (your energy, your value, your hair, your energy, your friend) and in which you should *just take flight*. Sense of humor and great emotion was spread in this presentation which forced each of us to add in its to do list the item ‘make sure I am as happy as I thought I would be’.

Eco-design, the basics. Software, web site are also about consuming energy and carbon. And Olivier Philippot from GreenCodeLabs @GreenCodeLab  explained what were the motivation to slow down a bit the code and material consumption. Few figures : IT communication consumes 2% of CO2 emission, which makes it equal to air transport. Web pages weight is increasing like hell and this is just participating to the worldwide over consumption. He recommended several practical tricks such as reducing the search requests (everyone knows that more then 10 items are much more than what we want), stop script when the user is in iddle, optimizing code (why not have the engineer from embedded system coming back on board to optimize code), avoid following the trend of web obesity [5].

Play on-line in the real world. Thibault Cabanas @Naotib is a gamer and likes to invent new ways to play. After reminding us the evolution of games in the human civilization and its most persistent characteristics today (player sat, moving maybe harms, potentially walking or traveling with his mobile phone), he invited gamers to enjoy the real life, with games inserted in the reality. Hum … or vice versa. As an example, he talked about Battle Paris [6] where characters do have virtual description, power, capabilities, but do evolve in the real streets of Paris. Meaning that when meeting the enemy on Champs Elysee, you should run to actually save your life !

Want to know more about ParisWeb ? Next and last post will address finally technical aspects in few days.

[1] Frédéric Bardeau book about Anonymous [fr]

[2] Aliaz initiative about having a unique identity [fr]

[3] Aza Raskin initiative about privacy icons

[4] Do Not Track initiative by W3C

[5] GreenCodeLab book about energy and software

[6] Battle Paris ‘virtual real’ game

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