Posted by: Clive | August 7, 2008

(pre)posterous – email blogging

I’ve been spending quite a bit of this last month looking at the nature of privacy, censorship, filtering and subversion on the web and its relationship to issues of democracy and citizen action.
The research I’m doing on the emerging blogosphere in Cuba suggests that limitations on free expression over the internet there are achieved by:

  • limiting access to computers (with the exception of certain sectors, access is limited to state run ‘cybercafes’ which are not really cafes, are very expensive and give limited time on very narrow bandwidth machines)
  • limiting access to the wider internet (cybercafes limit web browsing to an officially sanctioned, fire-walled web: in practice, a Cuban intranet. Email seems not to be limited in this way although there is extensive monitoring of outgoing messages)
  • laws concerning the hosting of Cuban citizen run sites on third-party (overseas) servers. (“It is not possible for a Cuban citizen to establish their own web domain and house it on a server in Cuba; but it is illegal for them to establish a web domain hosted on a server in another country.” Generacion Y)
  • self-censorship (the penalties for political dissent in Cuba are high. People are generally circumspect about criticising the government in public and especially in print)

(for more information start with this Google books preview of Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering By Ronald Deibert et. al)

For these reasons the blogosphere in Cuba is still very, very small. The most well-known blog written on the island (Generación Y) is famously penned by a Cuban who masquerades as a tourist in order to enter those hotels where access goes beyond the fire-wall. From a pen-drive she uploads her blog posts and downloads comments to read in a less expensive context. Feted in Europe and the States, Yoani Sánchez, is little known by Cubans in Cuba.

The above is really only a prelude and context to why I have found a new blogging platform to be potentially so interesting.

Posterous.com (thanks to John Larkin for news of this) is a blog platform that allows you to post by email. In fact, you can establish your blog simply by sending an email to post@posterous.com. It’s an ingenious and very simple system allowing not only text posts by email but also, through email attachments, the embedding of photographs, videos, documents, and links. And perfect for those with limited bandwidth and/or opportunities to access the ‘full’ world wide web. Here’s a screenshot of my own trial on preposterous showing a post I made by email + attachments of photos (automatically uses a very clever gallery view of the 3 photos I sent):

Obviously mobile access to blogs on WordPress.com and Blogger is possible – but more complicated. And there is still the question of email anonymity. That’s a difficult one because in order to use one of the cybercafes in Cuba you have to deposit your ID. So the IP of the computer you use is directly linked to your ID for however long you use that computer. This is a problem if you use Yahoo or Hotmail because both include the IP address of the computer used to send any email. However, if you use Hushmail, Vaultletsof, Gmail or fastmail.fm the IP is not logged and with a fictional name there is little chance of you being traced. Of course, you may be blocked by the Internet Service Provider (the ISP in Cuba is the Cuban State) if your message is intercepted and deemed to contain content ‘non grata’. But if you are, where do they trace it to? The downside is that your blog will not be updated.

Email, though we often don’t realise it, is a one-to-many communication medium. Through cc, bc, or listserves we can and do send messages to many people with one click. However, email lacks the aggregating potential of a blog. Posterous has made the email blog seamless and narrowed the gap between email and blogging and this may have enormous consequences for large numbers of people.

It’ll be interesting to see where the @ takes us.

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Responses

  1. Hi Clive
    Thank you for the pointer and reference to my blog. You are quite right about the impact that Posterous will have on the gap between email and blogging. I think Posterous will open the concept to publishing to many more people. That can be positive in the long run.
    Cheers, John.


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