CS47N: Computers and the Open Society

time-cover Ongoing assignment: Issue Analysis

Over the course of the quarter we will discuss in class a series of topics. For several of them, I will posit a proposition that is a focus of debate in the field. In order to prepare for class discussion, your assignment is to to find and read materials, starting with the suggestions provided in the syllabus, and expanding through your own research on the net.

By 10am on the due date, submit by email to winograd@cs.stanford.edu and samking@cs.stanford.edu a message with two parts:

  1. A list of the resources you have read
  2. The three best arguments you have found FOR the proposition and the three best arguments AGAINST.

    The goal in doing both of these is that you are not being asked to choose one side of the argument, but to find valuable insights on both sides.

In the class discussion, based on what you have submitted, I will call on people to say more about one of the arguments they listed.

Example of what you send in for a given topic:

Proposition: The Internet is going to lead to world domination by the Borg.

Resources I read:

Evgeny Morozov, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, Public Affairs, 2011, Chapter 6, pp. 87-94.

James Gleick, "How Google Dominates Us," New York Review of Books, August 18, 2011.
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/aug/18/how-google-dominates-us/ .

Evgeny Morozov, "Picking a fight with Clay Shriky," Net Effect (blog in Foreign Policy), January 15, 2011 - 3:12 PM,

Robert Scoble, "Here's what the new Google+ user.....", Google+ posting, 2:51 pm, Sept. 2, 2011,

Arguments for:

The Borg have announced their intentions to take over the world and will use all means available

The Borg have unlimited powers over computer systems

The Borg are evil

Arguments against:

The Internet is not really a part of their takeover - they will do it using other methods

The Internet gives the forces of good a chance to organize and fight back

There are possibilities to re-structure the Internet to make it impenetrable

Note that the email you send doesn't try to make the arguments in detail, or show how they are supported by the readings. That's what I'll be asking you in the discussion.


In the good old days before the Internet, there were reliable authorities on exactly how you should refer to some published material (e.g., such as the Chicago Manual of Style). They've tried to adapt as things go online, but it is cumbersome (what is the proper form to cite a Tweet, anyway!). Here is my brief guideline:

A citation has two basic purposes. First, it provides a pointer so the reader can find the original material. Second, just reading the citation you get some idea of the heading (title), source (both the author, and any institution involved in authorizing -- formerly publishing) and timeliness (original date).

For books, a year is precise enough and publishing houses serve as the source of credibility

Jaron Lanier, You are not a Gadget: A Manifesto, Knopf, 2010.

For a printed article, there is a more precise date, and the publisher still serves:

James Gleick, "How Google Dominates Us," New York Review of Books, August 18, 2011, 36-38.

I'm ignoring things like volume and issue which used to be good for finding physical print in the library but are pretty much vestigial. Remember that the main purpose of a citation is to be able to go find it.

For online materials of all kinds, things can be tricker:

Author: For some things (e.g., shared blogs, some news articles), the individual author isn't listed. Try to find it if you can. For many blogs, and other "popular" online venues, you don't have real names, but just handles like FanBoy27. Sometimes these are linked to actual people names, sometimes not. Try your best.

Authority: Many online materials have a "publisher" which lets you evaluate how much credibility to give it. Something in a New York Times blog has a different status than the blogs you will be creating on your own (though of course, yours may be more valuable :) Sometimes it may not be immediately obvious, but usually you can get some idea of who is behind it.

How the reader can find it: At first this seems easier on the web, since you just give a URL and the reader can click on it. But of course things on the web get modified, deleted, moved around, etc. Serious librarians are greatly vexed by this, since it is extremely hard to come up with a reliable way to provide long-term access that guarantees you'll be able to get it and it will still have the same content that the person citing it saw. For the purposes of this course, just give the URL you used. Since we know it's from a certain week, that provides at least a guide to when the URL actually pointed to that material. For more lasting publications, you should add when-accessed dates to URLs.

I'm not concerned about niceties (punctuation, what should be capitalized or in italics, etc.) but use them when they help clarify (e.g., quotation marks around titles). Basically, try to provide the most relevant information.