Tag Archives: technology

Do Web Interfaces Have Politics? A Japanese Social Network Site mixi and the Imagined Boundary of “Japan.” [Conference Notes]

by Latoya Peterson

These are the notes for “Do Web Interfaces Have Politics? A Japanese Social Network Site mixi and the Imagined Boundary of “Japan.”” The notes are from a paper by Ryuta Komaki, presented at the Texas A & M University Race and Ethnic Studies Institute’s Symposium exploring Race, Ethnicity and (New) Media.

  • This paper looks at mixi( A Japanese social networking site) with a specific focus on its web interfaces
  • Komaki argues that the interface has its own politics
  • About mixi
    • Japan based/Japanese language SNS (social network sites)
    • Similar to MySpace, Cyworld (Korea), Facebook
    • First SNS to target the Japanese market
    • 16.3 million registered users
    • Invitation only
  • Here, Komaki begins to describe the Racial/Ethnic Minorities in Japan. He notes these are social categories, and this is not the same as official designations.
    • Zainichi Koreans and other Japanese-born foreign nationals
    • People of Okinawan origin and Okinawan descent
      • Some argue that Okinawa was Japan’s first colonial project
    • Immigrant workers
    • Kikoku-shijo (Returnee children)
    • (The Ainu People) – Hokkaido
  • Interfaces influence user behavior as well as organizes the activities and experiences of the users
  • mixi Provides a “Menu Driven” Identity
    • “[The] interface feature [of the major portal sites, that forces the user to choose ‘what’ they are, and allows only one choice at a time], enforces a menu-driven sense of personal identity that works by progressively narrowing the choices of subject positions available to the user.” –Lisa Nakamura, 2002
    • Asks for the birthplace
    • Drop down, no free text entries
    • Lists prefectures, then city and township
    • poses problems for those born outside of Japan
    • Only option for those not born in Japan is (Overseas) then (Countries)
  • mixi is based on the assumption that experiences and memories at certain places in Japan will be standard; however these things are influenced by race, sexuality, etc.
  • mixi’s interface that renders those who deviate from the model of the ‘typical user’ as a ‘non fitting’ part of ‘typical users’
  • Komaki’s conclusion is that mixi, through use of drop downs and choices, reinforces the ideas and boundaries of Japan, and shows a preference to those born within Japan proper. Many people who live in Japan and have done so for their entire lives have their “otherness” reinforced by mixi. In his paper (currently unpublished) Komaki explains how through the choices provided to users, mixi encourages assimilation and rewards users that “fit in” with the established idea of what Japan should be. Users who do not “fit in” like children born overseas, immigrant workers, or Zanichi Koreans find their networks severely limited and their ability to connect with others compromised.

    Is a Black Web Browser Racist?: BET x Kevin Kelly x Blackbird

    by Guest Contributor M.Dot, originally published at Model Minority

    Earlier this week I mentioned to my friend S.bot that I was going to write about the fact that many people thought that the Black web browser, Blackbird, was racist.

    A little background. Blackbird is a web browser, created and operated by 40A, Inc., a company founded by three African American entrepreneurs, Arnold Brown II, Frank Washington, and H. Edward Young, Jr.

    On Tech Crunch, Robin Wauters describes it saying,

    The browser displays a pre-set news ticker on top, pulls in news content from Google News that might be of interest to African-Americans, and features a section with video content from online TV sites like UptownLiveTV, NSNewsTV, DigitalSoulTV and ComedyBanksTV. Other than that, there’s a lot of integration with the most popular social networks, a ‘Black Search’, preset ‘Black Bookmarks’, etc. There’s also a ‘Give Back’ program that streamlines donations to a number of non-profit organizations (Blackbird intends to donate 10% of its 2009 revenue to these partners as well).

    Here is the Blackbird pitch,

    Because we know the 20 million African Americans online need tools to build and foster community now more than ever.

    Because we know that 85% of African Americans prefer online news and information from the Black perspective.*

    Because we know that you are twice as likely to be among the first to discover new trends and use advanced technology compared to the general population.*

    *Source: PEW Internet and American Life Project 2004

    By trade, my friend S.bot is an Information Architect, so she is far more comfortable with trafficking in data than I am. I like Data too, but more for sociological purposes, but this discussion show me that she is the rare breed that is a high level aerial thinker that understands technology, business, user experience.

    While I initially was going to just focus on whether BlackBird was racist, the more I spoke to her, the more I became interested in the convergence of race, data and capitalism on the internet. She likened a Black web browser to someone deciding which library she could go to. I responded saying that there are Black libraries, and that Black libraries have more Black stuff then regular libraries, so what is the difference? Continue reading