A browser just for blacks?


BlackbirdA new version of Mozilla has appeared, dubbed "Blackbird". It’s a browser that offers features and content meant to appeal to members of the African-American (and possibly the African-Canadian) community.

The company that developed BlackBird –  a group called 40A Inc, says that the browser is designed to

[…] make it easier to find African American related content on the Internet and to interact with other members of the African American community online by sharing stories, news, comments and videos.

Through the use of embedded tools such as "Black Search", Blackbird attempts to provide users with the best black content available on the web.

It’s a controversial idea, which has already stirred up a growing number of comments on the blog TechCrunch.

My initial reaction was fairly negative. Though I’m not black, I do belong to another ethnically distinct group. I shuddered at the idea of someone creating and then distributing a Jewish browser, so that folks like me can access the best of Jewish content on the web.

On the other hand, there are already plenty of web sites out there that do just that, but they typically focus on a specific activity like dating. Is an ethnically-targeted browser really any different?

I think so. Blackbird makes the assumption that the web itself can be filtered according to the tastes and interests of a specific ethnic audience. That’s a difficult and possibly dangerous assumption to make. I’m not sure how it’s even possible to determine a common set of interests, political views, humour, artistic preferences from someone’s skin colour or other ethnically-defining characteristic.

Moreover, users who choose to browse the web using Blackbird are essentially identifying themselves as black to every website they visit. An unintentional but significant lapse of privacy.

Ars Technica has a more in-depth look at the new software and spoke with its creator Ed Young, who addressed criticism that Blackbird is exclusionary:

"We call it an ‘identity browser,’" Young explained. "I could make a browser for the lovers of Warcraft. Would that be exclusionary of other people? No, I would just be bringing those people closer to the sites and resources that they are probably interested in."

Young makes a good point – there is a long history in the tech world of hardware and software being customized to reflect its users’s interests. As Ars points out, Blackbird isn’t even the first browser that’s been purpose-built to serve the needs of a specific group. A version of the social browser Flock called Gloss is designed just for women.

Now, I haven’t tried Blackbird, and clearly doing so would not give me a greater appreciation for how well the program achieves its goal – I’m just not part of its intended user base.

But if you are, and have tried Blackbird, please let us know what you think of the experience.

Please keep your comments respectful, I realize it’s a hot topic, but if you get nasty, you’ll be modded.

Update 1: After reading many of the comments below, I decided to download and use Blackbird. I agree with many of the comments that suggested I not render an opinion without first trying the product.

So here’s my take:

In terms of pure web-browsing functionality, Blackbird is indistinguishable from the other flavours of Mozilla, specifically Firefox. The most notable differences are:

  • The inclusion of dedicated set of buttons:

    Blackbirdbuttons_4

    These first two buttons provide quick access to email accounts and social networks like Facebook or MySpace. The "Share" button lets users who have signed up with Blackbird Networks share web pages with other members, which are then organized by category such as "National News" or "Politics". Think of it like a Digg or StumbleUpon but with a specific demographic of voters. Results can be seen in a tab that appears on the left side of the browser window. The "Video" button opens up a similar tab and gives users access to 15 "channels" of which only 5 are currently populated with content. Videos then play in the main browser window. Finally the "Give Back" button is a shortcut to the site "http://dogood.blackbirdhome.com/" which Blackbird calls the "Do Good Channel". It’s home to a collection of community service and causes and provides information on how users can get involved and participate. 40A says that "Blackbird will donate 10% of its 2009 revenue to charitable and educational organizations that are serving the African American community."

  • The inclusion of a default "Black Search" option in the search bar. Searches conducted with this option simply take you to a custom Google search, which presumably has been tuned to include only sites that are considered in keeping with the African-American audience it caters to. Trying one of the suggested searches by a commenter on "firsts" yielded results from sites such as bet.com, blackplanet.com, ebonyjet.com and blackvoices.com.
  • A pre-populated set of bookmarks called "Highly Recommended".
  • A news ticker function which didn’t work for me, and also doesn’t appear to be customizable – the only options are "on" and "off".

It turns out there is little difference between Blackbird and any other browser in which someone who has taken the time to bookmark sites that have a specific theme or editorial approach.

Something that does set Blackbird apart from other browsers, is the inclusion of advertising in the bottom of the tabbed areas for video and sharing. Presumably this is what the creators are referring to when they note on the download site:

"Blackbird is free for you because it is supported by advertising and sponsorships. You don’t pay to use Blackbird."

Whether the notion of an ethno-centric browser is appealing to you or not, Blackbird is at best a mildly interesting approach to building a community. Savvy web users will be unimpressed by its limited feature set. The most compelling feature – the black search – doesn’t require Blackbird at all – you can access it here: http://www.blackbirdhome.com/search5.html using any browser you choose.

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50 comments

  1. Nick

    Most white canadians like hockey, most black canadians like basketball? how can this not be geared toward their interests, stop being so politically correct

    Like

  2. Galen

    yeah my only problem with this is that if there were a browser made called "whitebird" or something that had to do with only white people, it would get taken down immediately. or at least frowned upon big time. just a thought.

    Like

  3. Alan Daniels

    If the "white" person advertised a browswer just for caucasians, there would be such an uproar and we would be labeled as racists.

    Like

  4. renwick

    Im born african and I am Canadian does that make me a African Canadian? Also I am 100% white. Do they have a browser for just white people to?

    Like

  5. Tim

    I am an Irish American and see nothing wrong with this product. If people want to have a browser that focuses on their culture and their interests what is wrong with that? Actually, I wish I could have a browser that customizes it's search to my profile. Rather, than a search engine that is controlled by industry.

    Tim

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  6. Tim

    I am an Irish American and see nothing wrong with this product. If people want to have a browser that focuses on their culture and their interests what is wrong with that? Actually, I wish I could have a browser that customizes it's search to my profile. Rather, than a browser that is controlled by industry.

    Tim

    Like

  7. Mike

    Wow, next thing you know, there will be a special area at the back of the bus and in restaurants for blacks too. What happened to trying to eliminate segregation, sterotypes, and racism? And previous comments about what would happen if there was 'white' browser are dead on – there would be lawsuits like you wouldn't believe.

    "…make it easier to find African American related content on the Internet and to interact with other members of the African American community online by sharing stories, news, comments and videos…"

    You don't need a 'black' browser for these things… it's a marketing ploy and rather distasteful one in my opinion.

    Like

  8. Wayne

    I thought the Internet was colourless,religionless and genderless,who ever thought of this is trying to make a fortune on racism.

    Like

  9. Khalid Al-Amoudi

    eRacism – Same Stuff, New Method

    I must agree wth Mike. This is simply a very tasteless marketing plan. It's like a white person (sorry no racism meant) opening up a tv channel to get the basketball matches, rap song, Tiger Woods and Obama. This is just one other strike by some hyper-capitalist people.

    Now would it be okay if I started a new browser for white people that would give them better acces for american football, ice hockey and bacon? Or perhaps one for asians with more noodles and ping pong in the results? Or even camels and desert for arabs (had to drop that in so that my examples don't seem racist; i'm arab). The point I'm trying to get at is that our race does not determine our interests. I don't enjoy riding camels for example… In fact it feels quite odd. I wouldn't find it a very pleasant idea if someoen just started to make a browser to help me find some arab-linked content.

    pecae out

    Like

  10. Andrew

    The reason that sites like are starting to pop up because everything is designed for white people by default. The problem is, whites take it for granted so this is why people are saying that if whites had a site like this it would be considered racist. It would be racist. If the white power structure had been more inclusive of women & diverse cultures, I wouldn't be blogging about this.

    Andrew

    Like

  11. Peter

    I don't really see how this will catch on. If you're only interested in ethnically specific content, odds are you probably already know where to find it, will be refered by a friend or a link on a page you already know, or it will be easy enough to find with a regular search. And who is always only interested in ethnically specific content to the point where they want their browser to filter out other stuff when they do a regular search?

    Like

  12. Elliott

    I think people are being a bit too quick to jump on the PC band-wagon here. I mean 40A was founded by 3 "African Americans" after all. Why villify them for merely making use of marketing data and demographics in tailoring a product for a particular target audience?

    We all see special interest news in print media all time, bringing topics of interest for the Jewish, Black, Arab, Chinese, Irish, etc communities in which they serve.

    The internet is certainly the next logical step and obviously some sort of tool would be needed to wade through that sheer mass of available data.

    Also it's not like it's limiting these folks to a "Black Only" section of the Web but merely pointing out avenues of interest indicated by more or less marketing data and commuinty surveys.

    It just seems to me that the "in" thing now is to be immediately offended by any business practice that caters to a specific group.

    Use it if you like it, ignore it if you don't, like all business models it will succeed or fail based on it's marketing soundness. If they are accurate in their predictions of large Black appeal in this product it will take off, if not, back to the drawing board.

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  13. James

    so this is a browser for black people who are racist? I'm not seeing any major pro's of having something like this. I mean, if you had an on board search engine with that idea in mind as an add-on… sure, but this just seems a bit extreme.

    Like

  14. Brad

    Let's not lose sight of the fact that this is a private enterprise using marketing data to provide something that it would appear some people are willing to use. It is not anything 'official' nor IMHO does it suggest or encourage racism. The market will decide if they decide to keep on with it or not and it hardly would make a blip on our collective conciousness if not for this article/new release.

    Honestly, there are a myriad of culturally and/or ethnically focused websites, tools and services that you have never heard of or even care about. This is just another.

    Like Elliot said, 'use it or ignore it'. It is beyond silliness to be offended or threatened by its mere existence. I'm sure it would be great for the site creators to make the 'talk show indignation' circuit and hoping to create their own tempest in a teapot.

    This is a non-issue, just free entreprise and saavy news releasing

    Like

  15. JJthegreat

    Simon Cohen, it would probably be more constructive to actually try blackbird for yourself before writing about how non-constuctive it can be. Before instigating a conversation such as this, try it THEN write about it. Otherwise you risk just dissappearing into another usless voice in the blogosphere.

    Like

  16. Simon Cohen

    @JJ: Read the article. Using the browser wouldn't serve any purpose – I'm not part of the group it was intended for. It would be like asking a PC user to evaluate a peripheral that was only meant for a Mac. That's also why I invited readers who _are_ part of the group to try it and provide their feedback.

    Like

  17. Random Guy

    Why is it such a big deal anytime something is done with Black people in mind? If it was a browser for any other group, defined by ethnicity or otherwise such as Asians or Homosexuals, would there be such an uproar?

    Like

  18. Glukhov alex

    This will certainly stir up some "that's racist" comments, just watch. The whole idea is ludicrous.

    Like

  19. Black Guy

    Ok now people really just cause the browser is centered around black issues, and black culture does not mean that only black people can or should use it. I'm black and I have been a member on a site called Blackplanet for years now. I see plenty of white people and other races on the site and it is made that other races that enjoy "black culture" can enjoy the site. This browser is the same thing. I just downloaded it and you know what… I actually like it. Will I use it? maybe… Will it be my default browser? No. I think people are forgetting you are not limited to one broswer on a computer. Personally I have Google Crome, Firefox, IE and now Blackbird that I use for browsing (default IE). Blackbird may fly but to thing it will somehow take over for what is already out here amoung the black web users or divide people is ridiculous… it won't happen. I say Black, White, Jewish or whatever even if it's not for you try it you might like it and encourage some more unity by learning more about someone else.

    A white only browser… go ahead make it but remember something… black people were oppressed and in many ways still feel oppressed… taking away our forms of unity are like taking away our songs of freedom. When most things are made in this world for white men and we see it through who advertisers choose for actors in commericals we don't need broswers for white men… but I'm sure a women's browser would be an idea that is accepted.

    A black guy

    Like

  20. Domo

    wow…. running out of ideas on how to classify a race? haha… I am of Asian decent, born in France, now live in Canada, i grew up with racism all my life, in my personal opinion this is just a marketing gimmick which has a biproduct of racism. I don't think this product was necessarily targeted to be racist, more of a cash/money opportunity. And lets face it, whether we are white/asian/black/purple/blue/alien/etc…. we all know how to use the internet to some degree, if not, there is help, there are friends and there are family that can help. =)
    Plus nowadays, most people i know, all have a multitude of differently "colored" friends, such as me, heck i could even represent the United Nations with my friends. haha.

    Like

  21. Zack Fair

    This is one of the stupiest idea i ever heard, I'm not even black but i still find it offensive. I mean, you said it yourself, just because you belong to a specific race, it don't mean you ALL share the same common set of interests, political views, humour, and artistic preferences. And do we even know who makes this? I swear, if it's people white trying to make content for black people… May you be Black, Latino, Asian, Jewish, Arab, whatever, there is always Google!!

    Like

  22. Nola

    Th existence of a special interest browser is not racist in the least as it does not exclude anyone by race but by interest. There is nothing preventing a white person from using the service. The issue is that it assumes that people's interests are a function of their race not their cultural experiences. What does a 22 year old African American actor living in L.A and a 40 year old Nigerian Dentist living Vancouver have in common besides skin colour. The assumption that "black" culture is urban african american culture is dismisive to the millions of Africans, Caribbean, South American and Canadian blacks who far outnumber that group.

    Like

  23. anonymous

    I think its the race that marketing especially advertising that they need to be be displayed in the browser. For me, I am an asian, and i wish that there were some browser for brown people too.

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  24. Rob

    Is this really so different than a TV station intended for a black audience (BET) or a magazine intended for a black audience (Ebony and Jet come to mind, although I am sure there are many others)?
    Nobody is trying to claim that "all black people" will be interested in this browser, just enough people (black or otherwise) to make it a profitable business offering.
    Comments comparing this in any way to segregation, etc. are completely off-base and, actually, far more offensive than the existence of Blackbird. One was restrictive and unilaterally enforced; the other inflicts absolutely no hardship on users or non-users and is 100% optional for everyone.

    Like

  25. That girl

    Wow whether or not this is intended to be racist it is definatly going to be taken that way by many. I myself am proud to be white but find no problems with other races except things like this, We can't have white history month or browsers just for the white, we can't have an all white school to match Oprah's all black one, we would be considered racist would we not? If people want to be treated equally quit trying to find ways to seperate your races, Noone should get special treatment. Thats not saying you can't beleive in what you want or be proud of your culture and ethnic backgrounds. Be proud of it it's who you are!!
    The way blacks were treated way back when by whites was horrendous, But, it's over get over it it wasn't you it was their ancestors it wasn't us it was our ancestors. We can't be held responsible for that. Just my two cents.

    Like

  26. Gary

    What exactly is "Black Culture"? "Black" is a skin color, not a culture. The real rascism here is from the producers of the browser. They are making statements with their product that are generalizing "Blacks".

    There are "Blacks" from many different parts of the world, who actually do have a culture, that live in the USA or Canada and don't want to be looked at in a stereotypical way – eg. Basketball, Rap music, Watermelon and Chitlins.

    This is a good example of how to keep a minority group down and it is so typical that it is the minority group themselves doing it.

    Gary

    Like

  27. Colin

    I don't think this is racist – or at least it wasn't intended to be anyway. But it will certainly stir up racist feelings.

    And it is certainly divisive.

    I think that's too bad.

    Like

  28. CB

    we have come a long way to fight rascism but now instead of whites being rascist against blacks, it's turning into blacks rascist against whites. what happened to everyone wanting to be equal.

    Like

  29. Yvette

    I just think that as long as this 40A business striclty remains pure and clean, without criticizing or degrading other ethnic groups or organizations, we should let it be. The founders of this website put a lot of work into it and have good intentions in mind. I do agree that it is exclusive but don't we hang out with our same group of friends everyday? Why isn't that considered exclusive? It's not like it's a cult or something. It is just a website that brings blacks like me together, they same way Lavalife brings "singles" together. I just think that unless a cause for alarm arises, we should encourage, rather than discourage this 40A idea.

    Like

  30. Bob Gratton

    The fact that internet is global and it give the opportunity to anybody to express their ideas the way they see it. As with any other software that are available, you choose what you prefer and what fit you best. Nobody is forcing anyboby to use this browser… The beauty of internet is that everybody is free to choose!

    white guy

    Like

  31. Ethan

    There is absolutely nothing racist about this new browser. And the title of the article, 'A browser just for blacks?' can be misconstrued and hence, is very misleading as it implies that ONLY blacks can use this browser, when in fact, it appears that anyone can use it.

    People who are complaining that this browser is racist towards whites are simply playing the race card. It seems to be a cycle of resentment – non-whites resenting whites and whites resenting non-whites.

    There are countless forums and sites that are geared towards specific groups of people, be it goths, Asians, Europeans, women, men, feminists, white nationalists (Stormfront), etc. Why make a big fuss out of this?

    Everyday Joe Chinaman

    Like

  32. tek seven

    Unnecessary segregation!

    A slap in the face of progress – the internet brings people together, this will only tear them apart

    This is very dangerous because it's in a sense forming nations that have no real basis for their creation other than skin color. What's next? A browser for only people with blue eyes? People need to understand that although there was a civil rights movement, the perceived black community really has no political basis other than a fight for natural rights.

    This is counterproductive, unless of course Mozilla has some form of hidden agenda.

    People need to realize that black and white don't exist. There is only one human and that human could change color depending on environment. There is nothing that constitutes black or white, so segregating people under those headings is irresponsible, reckless and ignorant.

    Mankind demands unity. If you could grasp what I'm implying, please let your voice be heard and speak against such ignorant projects.

    Mozilla should be embarrassed. I'm glad now that I don't use any of their browsers.

    Like

  33. tek seven

    Excellent comment Gary. I see you have a thorough, proper and correct uderstanding of the issue. Me and you made similar posts and i didn't even read your post.

    When asked, 'what race are you?', humans should only have one answer – 'human'.

    Time to wake up to reality people. Open your eyes to the truth – unity, not segregation. Letting them impose segregation on you will only make us weaker.

    Like

  34. OlgaToronto

    To the person who said, "Is this really so different than a TV station intended for a black audience (BET) or a magazine intended for a black audience (Ebony and Jet…)?" I actually always believed that these all-encompassing magazines for "black" (based on race/skin colour only) ARE absolutely racist. The only time you could do it with good reason would be probably for make-up – because you need more pigments in it to show off on a darker skin. I was working next to a Fashion Fair cosmetic counter, where an Indian girls with a very, very, very dark skin had worked (darker than many Black of African descent). You wouldn't believe how many "black" people would ask, why no "black" girl is working at this counter! And when I was working for the counter on her days off, I had some customers asking when a black girl would be working, because of course me being white wouldn't be able to understand their needs! I made a strategy of asking them, how they would feel if I would refuse to buy make up from a black girl at Elizabeth Arden. Many of them would feel embarrassed/apologize then.
    I do understand that black people were (and to a certain extend still are) being oppressed by white people, but if any "minority" would want to be more equal in the society, it wouldn't happen through segregation.

    Like

  35. query

    Think for a second… had there been a browser for caucasian internet users the controversy would be tremendous and it would be shut down immediately ( and don't try to say that blacks are the minority, as an argument, because they no longer are the smallest population in north america for example). Given the point I just made, why is it that one can make such a thing as a black browser. Isn't this a double standard?

    …a thought… racism is now going against white people. Those who are white have less advantages then those who are of colour…

    Like

  36. marie

    so why did you find the necessity to open this debate actually? to create doubt? why did it really bother you? let them be, there was no evilness in creating it.. so the questionning.. i dont understand!

    peace and love!

    Like

  37. marie

    to query: …a thought… racism is now going against white people. Those who are white have less advantages then those who are of colour…

    please explain how!

    Like

  38. query

    I just made a comment above but now that I have read some of the other comments above I would like to add to my argument:
    I am glad that some are hearing my point, but to the user that commented under the name "Black Guy," I would like to say it is time to forgive and forget my friend.. I am not sure under what rock you have been living.. since you were born but there has already been much recognition to that fact. The oppression is over and you personally didn't feel it. So what exactly is it that makes you feel oppressed now? Is it watching the coloured actors on tv? the schools and things like Black browsers, (and what some may not know of, a certain restaurant that caters only to blacks in the USA?) Is that it? Think of those who were oppressed and never got recognition of that fact, such as the Georgians(middle eastern) in the past and in recent events still by Russia. That is but one example. Black people were not the only ones oppressed so how long is that going to be brooded over? I have personally have a WHITE family member that by chance went to the only school in her area at the time, just for blacks, and the last white boy to leave that school was beaten senseless.

    Now consider again… Many people have been oppressed, not only the blacks and yet they have been able to forgive and forget and think about something else for a change. The fact remains that a white person could not open a white browser. Is this not oppression if a browser for blacks can exist. IT"S YOUR TURN.

    Like

  39. mc

    This last commit is sssssoooooo wrong…HAH; I've already exp. racism from non white employers…It's just changing that's all…for real. As time goes on I find myself no longer even wanting to have anything to do with people with such mind thoughts.

    Like

  40. jahluv

    all the people raging about racism – i am black from the Caribbean,, and no, I dont feel i have a heck of a lot in common generally with the black American, yet I would welcome such a browswer for finding items that are specific to that community. I homeschool my son for example, it would be nice to be able to find some 'history' for example that properly reflects 'black inventions, achievements, etc. – not just the 'white point of view'. Whites don't need special browsers since most things are designed by them, for them with mostly their interests in mind. There are so many special interest sites, Im not sure what the big deal it. You can always use other browswers just like u do now. No one limits themselves to one browser do they? Why do whites always get so 'nervous' at any inclination of blacks to 'unite'. Are u afraid of something. Othere groups do it, no one forces anyone to use these services, but it is always good to have a choice – thats what its about – choice. Certainly their intention is not as it is for White websites like Stormfront – very racist site. so yes white sites do exist, guys. A Caribbean black woman

    Like

  41. Jacinta

    I think a web-site posted on a common browser would be more suitable. I think it is a good idea to have help to explore any topic more indepth but browser's might not let the average person post anything of interest to the group…is that right?

    Like

  42. Lyal

    Why do people worry about such things? We are all human and it does not matter if we are black, white, Asian or "other". People would comment if I said "Holy cow" shut up…if you have nothing nice to say, then don't speak. If you're ignorant…learn where holy cow was derived. I like my dog more than most people…he/she will never judge me,steal from me,cheat on me,lie to me…Our four children have learned that racism is not acceptable…perhaps the rest of the world should learn that too.

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  43. Tim M

    I find the notion of 'their' culture and 'their' interests as a way of focusing a browser interesting. As a gay man who doesn't much care for dance music or Will and Grace or the notion of exclusively gay social events, I shudder to think what a gay browser would be like…

    Like