The Information Society

BACK | TIS HOME

Letter from the Editor-in-Chief Rob Kling
17(3) 2001

This issue of The Information Society, 17(3) includes five articles. It opens with a study of the Internet Corporation for Assigned names and Numbers (ICANN) by Milton Mueller. ICANN is the organization that regulates fundamental naming conventions on the Internet. These conventions include the designation of new domains (ie. should there be new .sex or .news domains?) as well as resolving disputes between parties who both claim ownership of the same domain name. Disputes arise when organizations with similar names want the same domain name. They also arise in cases of alleged cybersquatting -- when a party registers the names of major organizations before they do, and then tries to charge them a large fee for transferring ownership of the domain name. ICANN, a semi-private corporation with global jurisdiction, developed a Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy to resolve such issues through arbitration. In "Rough Justice" Mueller examines the ways that over 2,000 cases involving about 4,000 domain names were resolved in the year 2000. ICANN's policy gives the complaint initiator, generally a trademark holder, the right to choose which one three dispute resolution services will handle the case. Some observers fear that the complaint initiators would seek the arbitrators who would be most likely to transfer the ownership of domain names from defendants to complainants. Of course, complainants may take account of other factors as well, such as the cost and speed o resolving a dispute.

Mueller's careful statistical analysis shows that the two dominant resolution service providers ruled in favor of complainants over 80% of the time, while the third resolution service with less than 4% of market share ruled in favor of complainants about 50% of the time. He also found that the country where a complaint originated and resolution time had some influence on the choice of resolution service provider.

Mueller is specially concerned that the current dispute resolution policy is subject to abuse. He considers the balance of interests between stakeholders such as trademark holders, and other Internet users who need domain names. He is specially concerned that ICANN is creating new rights in names, such as global rights to geographic place names and personal names. He suggests some modifications to ICANN's dispute resolution policy which may be more fair.

In the second article, "Information Sector Growth in Market and Non-Market Economies" Mark Shifflet is interested in the social and economic forces that drive information sector employment. His article starts with a contrast of the growth of the information sectors in a country with a strong market economy (Finland) and one with a state planned economy (Poland) with data in the period 1950-1990. He finds that Finland's information sector grew more rapidly than did Polands'. However a careful inspection of data about subsectoral employment, shows that the Finnish and Polish information sectors display many important similarities. Shifflet argues that these similarities come from the way that both countries depended upon industrialization as a major approach to economic development. He also argues that the development of a large information sector is an incremental institutional development from a manufacturing economy, rather than a sharp economic discontinuity.

In the third article, "Elaborate Isolation: Metastructures of Knowledge About Women" Carole Palmer and Cheryl Malone examine how information indexing structures conceal knowledge as well as reveal knowledge. This topic, like the politics of Internet search engines (Introna and Nissenbaum, 2000), is of theoretical and practical significance in an era where information and knowledge are casually used to describe technologies, organizations and societies. Palmer and Malone conduct their research by focussing on one category - "Woman" - and its changing representation over a 75 year period in two major bibliographic indexes: The United States Catalog and the Cumulative Book Index.

They carefully examine the indexing categories, and find, for example, that "Woman, as scientists" indexed some books about woman scientists while there is no corresponding category "Men, as scientists." The indexers assumed, in this case, that scientists must be men. This asymmetrical use of "Woman, as" for indexing other occupations, such as as doctors, as well. Palmer and Malone also examined the extent to which reciprocal indexing was common for books indexed under "Woman." For example, they found that Eliza Burt Gamble's book, the Sexes in Science and History, was indexed under "Woman" but not under Science (social aspects) or History. Researchers who were specially interested in studies about women would have to examine the bibliographic entries for Woman. Researchers who were interested in related topics (such as Science), would not be serendipitously lead to books about women scientists.

Palmer and Malone conclude by examining some newer indices that have been organized for locating materials on Internet sites (such as "Voice of the Shuttle") and find that they are somewhat more flexible in helping to coordinate their information sources. In part, they were designed with a broader view of disciplines and the breadth of their categories. From the point of view of the representation of Woman, they were developed after women's studies and gender studies have flourished and become accepted sources of diverse knowledge.

However, some deep conclusions remain, with respect to the organization of knowledge in general. First, indexing creates selective paths from themes and keywords to sources. Indexing and cross-indexing provide opportunities to make some kinds of knowledge more readily available to those who use and index, while hiding important knowledge from others who do not explore somewhat obscured parts of the index. These revelations and concealments are culturally shaped; human indexing reflects pre-existing meanings held by indexers. Last, the flexibility of some new indices to Internet resources are not automatically more flexible than were manual precursors. Their flexibility comes as a byproduct of imaginative indexers actively using some of the flexibility of current technologies. However, it is possible that these new indices also obscure some important knowledge while making other knowledge much more visible to searchers.

In the next article, "The Role of Intermediating Institutions in the Diffusion of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)" Jan Damsgaard and Kalle Lyytinen examine how industry associations supported EDI in Denmark, Finland and Hong Kong. In much of the literature, EDI is portrayed as a set of technologies that can radically reduce the transaction costs between specific parties. For example, in the case of retail sales, EDI between wholesalers and their customers could improve the abilities of all parties to manage their inventories, and thus their profitability.

In practice, EDI is another complex IT-related organizational innovation. Investment in EDI can seem expensive, and uncertain before it takes off and standards stablize. How does a market organized with EDI develop? Damsgaard and Lyytinen's shows how it can "take an institution to create a market." In particular, they study the role of grocery trade associations as "EDI market facilitators" in three countries. They note how trade organizations are more capable than smaller retail firms to build knowledge about how to implement EDI in business settings, and to mobilize a sufficient number of competing firms to take action. They also examine how the trade associations are better able to examine, select, and promote workable standards than are any of their members.

Their study of three countries is specially revealing. In Finland, a new institution was set up to support the development of EDI. In contrast, in Denmark and Hong Kong, pre-existing institutions were able to facilitate EDI. The authors conclude by observing that the widespread adoption of EDI "can only happen" through the action of a common and trusted institutional coordination body. They also observe that power dependencies between and within these organizations will affect the speed of EDI diffusion.

In our last article, "Exploring Multiplexity" Caroline Haythornthwaite examines the social network structures that developed in a computer-supported distance learning class. She notes that a computer-mediated group can be a complex entity whose members exchange many types of information via multiple means of communication. Over time, they coordinate technical features of media with locally enacted use to achieve a viable working arrangement. Haythornthwaite's longitudinal case study examines the development of social networks and seelctive media use in the class. She found that group structures associated with project teams dominated who communicated with whom, about what, and via which media over the term. While these group-based commnication patterns helped the participants to make progress on their course projects, they also limited the students' abilities to share ideas and experiences more widely with the whole class.

Haythornthwaite also found that different media occupy their own communication niches: Webboard (a web-based conferencing system) for diffuse class-wide communication; Internet Relay Chat more to named others but still for general communication across the class; and Email primarily for communication within teams. While face-to-face interaction, occurred only during a short on-campus session, it appears to have had a catalytic effect on social and emotional exchanges by establishing some precedents for communication styles. Overall, her study gives important nuance to understanding the complexities of computer-mediated communication that can take place or not take place in online-courses.

We will conclude this volume with issue 17(4) on " Issues of Authenticity, Social Accountability & Trust with Electronic Records" " which was guest edited by Prof. Wendy Duff. Please check our Indiana University-Bloomington web site http://www.slis.indiana.edu/TIS ) for news on forthcoming issues, calls for papers, and abstracts of articles from previous issues. Prospective authors may reach us via email at tisj@indiana.edu.

TIS's publisher, Taylor and Francis, is now making an electronic full text version of this journal available at no additional cost with an institutional subscription that is priced at less than $200. This new service is an exceptional bargain for large organizations, such as universities. It is possible to site license one electronic subscription for the use of all students, faculty, and staff for the price of one institutional subscription. TIS's web site (URL above) includes additional information about this opportunity.


References:
Introna, Lucas and Helen Nissenbaum. 2000. "Shaping the Web: Why the Politics of Search Engines Matter." The Information Society 16(3)(July/Sept.):169-185.

Please check our Indiana University-Bloomington web site for news on forthcoming issues, calls for papers, and abstracts of articles from previous issues. Prospective authors may reach us via email at tisj@indiana.edu.

Home | Table of Contents | Editorial Letters