The Persian for London is Tehran

IM-chatting with a friend in Iran about Eugène Ionesco I stumbled randomly on this quote that charmed me:

I got the idea of making analogies between cities from Hofstadter, who quoted Ionesco’s remark

The French for London is Paris.

One of the growing frustrations of life online is that there isn’t yet truly one Web for everyone. Alongside other issues (e.g. accessibility, device independence, proprietary content formats, cost of PCs and ‘net access, …), there’s a growing problem with crude and indiscriminate national-level filtering. A lot of users get a “Lite” version of the Web, thanks to their governments and supporting parties (ISPs, western software filtering companies, etc.).

In this case, I didn’t get to share the thought with my friend quite so easily, as the page was blocked by the Iranian ISP:

This page will not be accessible for the reason that in our database it has been assigned to the category of blocked contents.

In the event the URL does not contain materials that are forbidden by laws, please fill this form out then hit send.

From the Wikipedia entry on Ionesco:

He disregards psychology and coherent dialogue, thereby depicting a dehumanized world with mechanical, puppet-like characters who speak in non-sequiturs. Language becomes rarefied, with words and material objects gaining a life of their own, increasingly overwhelming the characters and creating a sense of menace.

I’m more familiar with Hofstadter than Ionesco, but there’s a menacing circularity to the message from the firewall:

user: I’d like to read the page please.

firewall: Sorry, the page is blocked. You can’t see it. If after considering its contents carefully, you’ll vouch for them as being compliant with all relevant laws, please enter your personal details in the register below.

Those of us working on decentralised resource description should keep these little stories in mind. Resource description is a double-edged sword; we can use it to find and locate relevant content, and to personalise, filter and prioritise incoming information. But the same technology can rather easily be used in ways that damage the Web as an international and universal communications platform; somewhere than anyone can talk to anyone about anything. So I know there are no easy answers, and that it feels somewhat naive to keep griping on about filtering in these posts. But I don’t want to get used to national filters being a long-term reality of the Web, and I’ll keep griping…

All I can say for my part, is that for every hour I spend on content labelling technology I’ll try to spend spend a balancing hour on universal access issues. I’m more of an incrementalist on these things than William Loughborough, but the geezer‘s got a point when he says:

…until we are all connected, none of us is connected.

Nearby in the Web: “BBC Persian filtered out of Iran, what can we do?” from Ian Forrester, who talks about the use of full-text syndication as a workaround for national Web filters. Instant Messenger-based RSS clients might be an interesting ingredient, to the extent that the IM protocols themselves are unfiltered. Mario Menti has a prototype MSN bot that relays BBC news via chat messages…

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