Am I blocked or not?

by Eszter Hargittai on February 25, 2009

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society just launched Herdict Web, “a tool that employs the distributed power of the Internet community to provide insight into what users around the world are experiencing in terms of web accessibility.”

Depending on where you access the Internet, the frequency with which you run into inaccessible Web sites varies. The OpenNet Initiative has been documenting cases of Internet filtering for years (see resulting Access Denied book). Herdict Web’s ultimate goal is similar, but the methodological approach is different: it relies on users’ reports from across the world to display a real-time picture of user experiences with Web site accessibility. Read more about it.

And be sure to join the herd! (Rest assured that everyone on the project realizes that a group of sheep tends to be referred to as a flock.) Congrats to Jonathan Zittrain and the entire Herdict Team on a great site and service!



tom s. 02.28.09 at 8:56 pm

This sounds admirable, but I’m still trying to understand what herdict means by accessible. For example, from here in Canada I can get to but I cannot watch any of the material on the site because of rights issues. Or I can get to but cannot see various content because I’m not in the UK. Do these cases come under herdict’s “inaccessible” umbrella or does the fact I can see the site (but not everything on it) make it “accessible”? Seems to me it would depend on the goals of the project how I would label those sites.


Eszter 02.28.09 at 10:53 pm

Tom S. – I agree with you that these issues are not clear. JZ and the team gave a presentation at Berkman a few weeks ago and I posed a similar question with respect to a YouTube video. What if came up, but the video itself was inaccessible? I’m embarrassed to say that I’m not sure what the response was, perhaps precisely, because it wasn’t fully clear if there was a set preference on the part of Herdict. I’ll check one more time.


JZ 02.28.09 at 11:09 pm

I’ll make sure our FAQ is clear on this — Herdict can understand URL vs. entire site, and we want an inaccessibility report anytime someone doesn’t get to what he or she expects. That would include a page on Youtube where a video has been removed, or one where it’s removed only for people coming from one area, e.g. Thailand. So both of Tom S.’s examples would be examples of inaccessibility — and Herdict then would be able to show the geographic restrictions as they’re applied. …JZ


tom s. 03.01.09 at 4:31 pm

Thanks – I’m glad the answer is Yes.

It will be interesting to see if herdict gets picked up widely. I suspect it’s a bit obscure for most people living in permissive societies (me included) but I hope I am wrong. The general principle is definitely worth supporting, as I say (self promotion alert) in a review of Future of the Internet here.

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