miscellaneous

Blackbird: I was not waiting for this moment to arise

the Blackbird logo

the Blackbird logo

Blackbird is a new browser based on Mozilla that is targeted toward an African-American audience. Now, far be it from me to pooh-pooh
entrepreneurial brothers with a plan
, but really — why do African Americans need a special browser?

The concept begins to break down for me as soon as the notion of a universal black culture or black experience is introduced. Blackbird’s developers have taken it upon themselves to define the universal black experience, and to distill that experience into a web browser that comes pre-loaded with content that they deem appropriate for members of this community. The problem with this kind of filtering is that the developers have used their own inherent biases and preferences to define what information is best suited and most relevant for African Americans. Who are these people, and what gives them the right to dictate what content is introduced to me when surfing the web?

Once content is filtered through a specific medium, a person’s worldview will be affected by that filter. It is as if Blackbird’s developers are saying to black internet users that the only news they should be interested in is “black” news, the only music they should care about is “black” music, and the only entertainers that have any relevance are “black” entertainers.

Maybe I wouldn’t have had such a strong reaction to this if it was 1999, or if black rates of Internet use and adoption were low and/or dropping, but this seems like an ill-timed attention- and money-grab. We’ve just seen the election of a president who doesn’t want to be the leader for only Black people, but the leader for all people. Kanye West recently said he wanted to see black hip-hop entertainers branch out, that he wanted to be like The Beatles or Elvis. Most signs point to the expansion of black thought and black culture(s), yet Blackbird wants us to make a move toward segregating the web. It feels regressive and limited. At this historical moment, we need to do all we can to make sure that we can see the whole world from our windows, not just our little patch of front lawn.

Not only that, but because I’m a Mac user I can’t even properly evaluate Blackbird, because apparently Black people only use Windows.

Understand that I’m coming at this from the point of view of a librarian, a profession that places a great deal of importance on equal and open access to information. For the longest time, librarians were the ultimate filters – we told people what they should read and why, and people thanked us because they felt that no one would know more about selecting the “right” kinds of information than a librarian. The technological landscape has shifted drastically in the last three to four years, and now almost anyone can synthesize, create, and distribute their own information with only limited interference from gatekeepers.

Rather than merely presenting targeted content to me on a plate, offer me ways to interact with this content. Don’t just filter the content for me, Blackbird, help me understand why this is important, and show me ways that I can create my own content and connect with others. Let me create, collaborate, share and brainstorm with black people — and with the world. Teach me to be a media influencer. Until and unless you can do these things, your product is little more than a shiny Firefox skin.

rushmoredrivequoteAn aside: I was searching through MasterFile Premier earlier today and came across a piece in the New Statesman about Rushmore Drive, a search engine for African Americans. The reaction to Rushmore Drive is similar to the reactions to Blackbird; thankfully, as more people use Rushmore Drive, the relevancy and recall of their search results continues to improve. But I came across this tidbit in the article and it made my blood boil:

“I have never before typed in films, books, or anything and got black results on the front page unless I typed ‘African American’ before it.”

Darling, that’s how search engines work. Still, just because someone is too lazy, or not savvy enough to learn to use a search engine properly it isn’t reason enough to develop a community-specific search engine. As the adage says, give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he’ll eat forever. If we work to improve information literacy for all people instead of spoon-feeding them things that we think they should know, everyone benefits.
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18 thoughts on “Blackbird: I was not waiting for this moment to arise

  1. @cecily – I agree with you 100% on everything especially too since I am African American and I use a Mac.
    I also appreciate you comment on @blackweb20's blog about black people who live in one part of the country and another. I have lived in Iowa City (midwest), Atlanta (south) and New York City, Washington, DC (East Coast) and hardly anyone understands where I am coming from at times because of how I understand the different regions of how I have experienced living life there as a minority a a black and as a woman.
    My issue with all of this is that if I am going to download and use this browser – will all my actions be recorded and documented as a black person using the web? What internet marketers are going to be spamming me knowing that oh – this lady is at IP address etc. and they are *black* b/c they downloaded the blackbird and I think this new [insert product here] will do wonders for them b/c they are black and I know black people buy, etc.
    Did you read this article? Excellent in how I feel and I have to thank @koa on twitter for sharing it with me:
    Social Media and the Reality of Minority Markets
    http://adage.com/bigtent/post?article_id=132954

  2. @cecily – I agree with you 100% on everything especially too since I am African American and I use a Mac.
    I also appreciate you comment on @blackweb20's blog about black people who live in one part of the country and another. I have lived in Iowa City (midwest), Atlanta (south) and New York City, Washington, DC (East Coast) and hardly anyone understands where I am coming from at times because of how I understand the different regions of how I have experienced living life there as a minority a a black and as a woman.
    My issue with all of this is that if I am going to download and use this browser – will all my actions be recorded and documented as a black person using the web? What internet marketers are going to be spamming me knowing that oh – this lady is at IP address etc. and they are *black* b/c they downloaded the blackbird and I think this new [insert product here] will do wonders for them b/c they are black and I know black people buy, etc.
    Did you read this article? Excellent in how I feel and I have to thank @koa on twitter for sharing it with me:
    Social Media and the Reality of Minority Markets
    http://adage.com/bigtent/post?article_id=132954

  3. Damn! I was gonna make a beatles joke when I twittered about this, but yours is better anyway so it's just as well.
    I'm not mad at the idea of spaces devoted to collecting/connecting Black voices, but I just don't see how this is a useful tool to that end, for all the reasons both you and Tiffany listed. And its presentation, with the RB&G color scheme and "Proud To Be Black Y'all" banners (much as I appreciate any Run-DMC allusion), just feels so dated & obvious…
    Plus, this bullet point:
    "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."
    That tells me why they would want to market a product to Black users, but it doesn't tell me why Black users would find the product useful. In fact, to me it suggests Black users are more likely to already have enough web-savvy to make this type of offering redundant.

  4. Damn! I was gonna make a beatles joke when I twittered about this, but yours is better anyway so it's just as well.
    I'm not mad at the idea of spaces devoted to collecting/connecting Black voices, but I just don't see how this is a useful tool to that end, for all the reasons both you and Tiffany listed. And its presentation, with the RB&G color scheme and "Proud To Be Black Y'all" banners (much as I appreciate any Run-DMC allusion), just feels so dated & obvious…
    Plus, this bullet point:
    "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."
    That tells me why they would want to market a product to Black users, but it doesn't tell me why Black users would find the product useful. In fact, to me it suggests Black users are more likely to already have enough web-savvy to make this type of offering redundant.

  5. This post is right on the money. And funny too! Thank you Cecily for your succinct style and intelligent humor.

  6. Reminds me of Girlawhirl, the "toolbar for women": http://prentissriddle.com/blog/?p=40
    Personally I see the point in making a culture- or community-specific version of a content-specific tool, maybe even a search engine. However, I don't see a browser as a content-specific tool. A browser is most useful when it efficiently retrieves and displays whatever content I ask it to.

  7. Reminds me of Girlawhirl, the "toolbar for women": http://prentissriddle.com/blog/?p=40
    Personally I see the point in making a culture- or community-specific version of a content-specific tool, maybe even a search engine. However, I don't see a browser as a content-specific tool. A browser is most useful when it efficiently retrieves and displays whatever content I ask it to.

  8. Cecily Walker says:

    The difference, Dame Johnson, is that Black Planet was an online community. Any browser can be used to access any online community, so the question remains why anyone would need a "black" themed browser? It isn't adding anything of value, and based on Karsh's review above (read it if you haven't – it's quite detailed), it actually has more limited functionality than other browsers on the market, which can actually hinder a person's access to the web. Blackbird is purely unnecessary.

  9. The difference, Dame Johnson, is that Black Planet was an online community. Any browser can be used to access any online community, so the question remains why anyone would need a "black" themed browser? It isn't adding anything of value, and based on Karsh's review above (read it if you haven't – it's quite detailed), it actually has more limited functionality than other browsers on the market, which can actually hinder a person's access to the web. Blackbird is purely unnecessary.

  10. Cecily Walker says:

    Well said, Prentiss. A browser's just a tool I use to get to the content I want – it isn't the content itself.

  11. Well said, Prentiss. A browser's just a tool I use to get to the content I want – it isn't the content itself.

  12. Cecily Walker says:

    That's a good point, Jay. How is it that we're more technically savvy, but we need a crippled — er — enhanced browser to "improve" our experience?

  13. That's a good point, Jay. How is it that we're more technically savvy, but we need a crippled — er — enhanced browser to "improve" our experience?

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