Sunday, December 13, 2009

Is government monitoring of social media wrong?

This story from the New York Times makes me wonder. I've always argued that blogging is more analogous to that semi-public conversation in the pub than traditional publication, and we wouldn't expect governments to snoop on such exchanges.

Yes. In a virtual world, what we say is registered and may remain online for years. But the intention, the context, the way we exchange ideas, the way we share them, sometimes unattributed (through no fault of anyone's), the way we build upon them for a greater good ... all of this smacks to me more of that pre-Gutenberg world of oral communication than the post-printing press age of unidirectional publishing.  Social media is anything but unidirectional.  That's the real difference between the world of traditional copyright and this brave new world we are all so bemused by - and, perhaps, in some cases, even frightened of.

So does the government have the right to monitor these virtual dialogues?  In a strictly legal sense, of course it does.  They are in the public domain.  But in a moral sense, surely we are not looking to reproduce the nasty small-minded intrusivenesses of Cold War Eastern European states that would lead us all to begin to look over our shoulders in fear of committing imagined and forever expanding transgressions.

No.  This is not the right way.  If we believe in anything in the West, it is the freedom to speak.  Government monitoring of social media will impose a painful and bloody break on everything we hold dear - and, indeed, in the spirit of openness that peer-to-peer consumption and production could bring us all both economically and culturally, everything we could achieve in the future. 

Please let us think again.  And let us think again in good faith.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Xbox iPlayer launch delayed indefinitely

John Naughton reports on the above and hits the nail on the head:
Could this have anything to do with the fact that Rupert Murdoch and Microsoft are in, er, talks, about Redmond paying the Digger to let Bing have exclusive ‘indexing rights’ to News Corp content?

Fact: the Digger (and his various offspring) detests the BBC and would like to shut it down.
More here.

In the meantime, you can always enjoy iPlayer on the Wii. I've started using it frequently myself and can happily report it works brilliantly on LCD TVs. The Wii acquires a utility I never anticipated it could ever have.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Feedback on Google Wave

Yesterday, Google published the results of a survey I missed on what people like and don't like about Wave.  I would tend to agree with the respondents - a great place to meet but integration with standard email would be good.

You can find more at Google's blog here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Crowdsourcing, taxation and the new digital economy

Governments need taxes - need things they can tax - to operate effectively, to have the resources to provide all the services we agree we all need.  But the problem with the new digital economy is that large portions of what is created these days is done voluntarily, out of hours and by people who care more for a cause than the buck they could turn.  Wikipedia exists because of this crowdsourcing effect, and usefully defines the term thus

How social networks may drive us towards Microsoft-type monopolies once again

And here I was thinking that socialising networks would release us from the monopolistic attentions of capitalism - only for the natural algorithms that underlie their behaviours to bring me sharply to my senses.  John Naughton writes this today in the Observer:
[O'Reilly's] argument is that since Web 2.0 services get better the more people use them, so they have a natural tendency towards monopolistic specialisation. So he thinks we're headed for "a world with one dominant search engine, one dominant online encyclopedia, one dominant online retailer, one dominant auction site, one dominant online classified site, and we've been readying ourselves for one dominant social network".

It's difficult to argue with this analysis. And each of the network's local monopolies is doing everything it can to keep us inside its walled garden. Google executives, for example, constantly blather on about how they value the "open" internet, freedom of choice etc, while at the same time frantically constructing an online environment which provides a cornucopia of services sufficiently rich to ensure that subscribers need never leave the Google embrace. The same is true of Amazon, Facebook and eBay.
The truth of the matter is that if you don't own the means of production, you don't own anything.  We're back to the same sad truth time and again.  I truly believe in an open Internet.  But I'm beginning to truly believe in neither governments nor corporations.  As Naughton caustically adds:
[...] common sense, not to mention bitter experience, tells us that the company that voluntarily turns its back on the prospect of monopolistic power has yet to be incorporated.
More here from Naughton.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BBC iPlayer on the Wii

You can now get BBC iPlayer on the Wii.  I tested it out this evening whilst watching the latest episode of Dr Who.  High quality images, far better than on a PC in fact, coupled with a perfectly skip-free delivery made for an enjoyable experience.  The British TV licence fee just added an extra string to its evermore digitally rich and melodious bow.  The people responsible should feel proud of the software they've produced, as well as the development process they've followed, whilst private industry competitors such as Sky and Virgin Media should be looking over their shoulders.

If you're interested, more background to this product and service can be found here and here.  It's a clear example if there ever was one of how public software applications can be used to support and re-energise private industry at crucial moments in our economic history.  One caveat - you do need your Wii to be set to the United Kingdom for the program to run as expected.  And you do, of course, need to have paid your BBC licence fee.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Community computing and that $80 computer

Here's something really special.  For the price of a Windows operating system licence, you get an operating system and a computer to boot (or reboot as the fancy might take you).  More here.  Via lirazsiri's Twitter feed.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The thinking behind Twitter's new retweeting functionality (the organic version, I mean)

Evan Williams explains it with clarity. You may agree or you may not.  I'm not sure I do - it seems to structure too aggressively what you can and can't do.  Manual retweeting may remain as a least worst option.  Or, alternatively, we'll carry on using our Twitter clients - just as we have been doing so up to now.

It's a classic example of eco-system and third party support, though -  the give-and-take between originator and business opportunists.  A leaf out of Microsoft's book, if there ever was one.  So how do these Twitter client developers hope - long-term - to make any money?  A sheer and utter mystery to me.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

When five sevenths of your electorate is already on Facebook - what then?

The fascination with all things virtual grows exponentially.  I remember teletext as a monumental revolution but for my children there has never been a world without.  I remember reading recently that adults go online but for our offspring there's no difference between online or off.  It's one and the same.

That is not the future.  That is their present.

Now we discover, via Tom Watson's Twitter feed, that by next year's attorney general elections, five sevenths of California's Democrat voters will be on Facebook.

More on this astonishing statistic here.

And yet even so, those who do not understand that software code is our new method of writing constitutional frameworks will continue to kick against overwhelming social change and believe we can impose old 19th century ways of thinking on 21st century trends.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

How socialists might engage with the idea of reform rather than revolution

A thoughtful - and engaging - piece from Dave today on the subject of reform.  Well worth reading - and well worth internalising its lessons.  His conclusion - as much a product as a cause of virtualised Web 2.0 tendencies (certainly we could apply them to that part of the Internet which still fiercely resists all attempts at monetisation) - runs as follows:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What e-waste does to other communities

It provides certain communities with jobs and a living - but at what cost?  Images which - at the very least - will disconcert here, as the interdependence of world trade shuffles the underbelly of the bright side of modern gadgetry to countries like China.  There must be a better way.  Surely we should really learn to pick up our own rubbish.  Via John Naughton's Memex and

Friday, October 30, 2009

Trends that are reshaping communities

More evidence of significant changes taking place in our communities - in this case, at the hands of open source:
The French Government's public finance department will switch 130,000 desktop PC's to Mozilla's email and calendar applications. Mozilla's Thunderbird email service, Lightning Calendar and an open-source groupware will replace IBM Lotus Notes and Microsoft Office. The move signals how more government agencies from around the world are dropping enterprise accounts with major vendors to cut down on costs and get better license agreements.They are turning to open-source providers and companies like Google that can offer email and services such as Google Docs.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mediated communication? Oh, just get used to the idea!

Since it is inevitable that, in a global culture, our conversation will be mediated in some way or other, our focus should not be on whether this should happen but how.  In any case, mediation always existed - you spoke to someone and prejudice - or simple observation - immediately intervened: was this person richer or poorer, more highly educated or less highly educated, better dressed or worse, taller or shorter?  Mediation, insofar as it provides a context which affects how we communicate with others, has always existed and will never disappear.

We do really have to get used to it.

In a global village, however, it is easier to assign blame - or, at the very least, apportion responsibility - for what often seem to be covert acts of mediation.  A very simple example: the very fact that MSN and other chat clients have popularised an ever-broadening range of ready-made emoticons mean that our younger generations haven't had to learn the short-hand - the code - that originally defined them.  From the codified to the picturesque and literal in one corporate bound.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Prefab politics, and PolicyWiki retreads galore ...

If I had anyone to wave with, I'd wave this idea. Prefab politics. This was an email I sent to a certain Beth Noveck in 2006. It was a bright idea which like all bright ideas before it had already been thought up by someone else. That someone else was Noveck and her colleagues.  Their website was called - or something like that - because, as is my wont, when I have a bright idea, my first instinct is to register a website; I went to do so and to my chagrin found it was taken! The site is, however, no longer operational, as far as I can see, but the germ of an idea remains.

I don't generally publish private emails, but I think the content of this one is worth republishing here.  It's my half of the conversation, not hers, so I don't think I'm breaking any rules:

Microsoft so happy with Windows 7 they launch their own version of Linux

As Ubuntu readies its latest version, Microsoft - apparently pleased with the sales of Windows 7 - decides it has to have all the bases covered and launches its very own version of Linux.  That, anyhow, is what Dell was advertising recently on its website.

Surely, some mistake, as the Register points out.

It's not a bad idea though.

Sunday, October 25, 2009 4 Kids

Here's a beautiful, supportive and community-orientated idea if there ever was one. 4 Kids.  The website introduces the project in the following way:

Why has gone open source

More reason for the British government to take note and understand open source more constructively. This article, via 0pensource's Twitter feed, describing as it does how those running the American government's own website have decided to use open source tools instead of proprietary systems, tells an intriguing tale:
The great Drupal switch came about after the Obama new media team, with a few months of executive branch service (and tweaking of under their belts, decided they needed a more malleable development environment for the White House web presence. They wanted to be able to more quickly, easily, and gracefully build out their vision of interactive government. General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT), the Virginia-based government contractor who had executed the Bush-era White House CMS contract, was tasked by the Obama Administration with finding a more flexible alternative. The ideal new platform would be one where dynamic features like question-and-answer forums, live video streaming, and collaborative tools could work more fluidly together with the site's infrastructure. The solution, says the White House, turned out to be Drupal. That's something of a victory for the Drupal (not to mention open-source) community.
More from this report here.  More from Drupal itself here

How Postman Meh! Leads To Free Hugs

No.  I'm not going to lambaste you with reasons to support or undermine the CWU strike.  This video came to me via Tom Watson's Twitter feed.  In part, it tells the story which Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death" began to define.

The thesis of the video itself, which I post below, seems to be that because we learn to know ourselves through relating to others, the new social media, which allow us to relate to so many more, may change the way we become.  Very little of our communication is unmediated any more.  Replay takes over from the single experience.  Replay isn't only a question of recognition but also leads to a curious kind of re-cognition.  But it's not only the self that plays a part in this process.  The "sociological experiment" that is watching others speaking to camera leads us not only to being distanced by media but also - simultaneously - brought closer to those we know we will never meet in person.  It's not just an act of self but also an act of community.

Facebook lite (or a Twitter with space to stretch)

Facebook lite is launched on a relatively unsuspecting public.  Oh, it's so clean, though, that it makes you wonder how it got so bloated - and, more importantly, how you agreed to put up with it.  Lovely piece of work. 

Feels, in fact, like a Twitter with space to stretch.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Why a politics of equality may make us all richer

A good argument in these BNP-ridden times; a more than convincing argument as we prepare ourselves for the intellectual miseries and poverties of Tory misrule:
[...] Here, we have clear evidence that a more equal society does leave almost everyone better off. It is not simply the case that in England and Wales economic inequality means bad outcomes are shunted down the social scale; it is also true that inequality means bad outcomes are being distributed across the social scale, making even rich English parents more vulnerable than poor Swedish ones.

The future of IT is also the future of politics

This, from the Guardian and Mitch Kapor last week, is so right:
While Firefox is widely regarded as a huge success, Kapor warns that it is not actually the best example of the victory of open source. Instead, he suggests, the movement's main achievement actually lies out of sight – amid the systems that underpin the web itself.
"I tell people that the history of Mozilla and Firefox is so one of a kind that it should not be used – ever – as an example of what's possible," he says. "The accomplishment of open source is that it is the back end of the web, the invisible part, the part that you don't see as a user."
More here.

Embedding Wave on Blogger (II)

As per my previous post, if you have a Google Wave account and are logged in - or log in when requested - you should be able to see my wave below. I'm now going to try and see if it provides realtime updates.

Nope.  That didn't quite work out as expected.

Well, there's another update for you.  It won't render properly on Blogger for the moment but it does seem to update in real time on the website I've set up.  As long, that is, as you have a login for Wave.

Why do online companies follow this policy of invites?  Surely not to create interest.  Not any more.  Does it simply make upscaling manageable and serve to outsource to the crowds the debugging?

Is that all there is to it?

Embedding Wave on Blogger

This is an experiment - after a bit more Googling than I would have liked.  Let's see if it works. If it does, below you should see a wave I've been working on. Content-wise, it's nothing to write home about. But if it works, I'll try and post something more useful in a minute.

Update: didn't work. :-(

Further update: twenty minutes later - ah, but maybe it did after all.  :-)

Or, at least, I can now see the wave in question at the following site I've just created using the Google Apps website tools Labour Wave functions with.  The issue is whether you can see it as well.  I've made the page public but I'm not certain of the myriad of permissions that these systems generate amongst each other.

Next thing is to try embedding on Blogger itself, rather than a separate webpage.

Aha.  The updates flood in.  I've just tried to access the page I've set up with my embedded wave using a different browser and not logging in to Google.  It doesn't allow me to see the wave and asks me to log in first.  But the gadget exists and embedding in webpages is possible.

Extremadura, LinEx and owning one's means of production (no apologies for repeating myself)

I've posted this video several times - but make no apologies for posting it again.  The lessons are being learned, but ever so slowly.  We need to keep things moving.

More background from itself here (Google English here).  The video below.

Mozilla's Raindrop (II)

More on the Mozilla Raindrop community can be found here.  The @raindrop account at Twitter doesn't however seem currently active - or indeed searchable.

As always, it is my hope that we can find synergies that allow all these technologies to work together and support each other - that, in fact, people can impose their own virtualised socialising behaviours on those companies which would - otherwise - have us become consumer robots.

Mozilla's Raindrop

Mozilla is fast on the heels of Google with its Raindrop proposal.  At first glance, it seems to be more of a mightily sensible attempt to evolve email than a startling revolution in auditing trails of thought.

See the video below.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Lessig on the Pirate Party and why an American version would make things worse

According to Lessig's thesis, the term "Pirate Party" itself would create barriers and lead to unnecessary misunderstandings, reinforcing existing prejudices and making the work of the free culture movement all the more difficult to carry out.  The YouTube video in question below.

Is this the real reason why Labour's hierarchy is so against free culture?

Background to the Pirate Party can be found on Wikipedia.  This came to my attention this evening via Lawrence Lessig's Twitter feed.  Interesting that:
Founded in 2006, it is now the third largest party in Sweden in terms of membership. Its sudden popularity has given rise to parties with the same name and similar goals in Europe and worldwide, forming the international Pirate Party movement.

When you're not in the business of telling the truth (but we are)

Sad that the word "media" doesn't automatically equal "truth".  A nicely sharp and to the point overview of exactly where we're going wrong in our latterday communities can be found below, via Labour Matter's Twitter feed this evening.

Question time (and the threads of hope)

I saw the newspaper headlines for the day this evening. The vast majority criticised the BNP's Nick Griffin - as well they might. A video of Griffin was referred to during the proceedings last night.  I've already posted it on - but it deserves to be posted on as many sites as possible.  Here it is again, if you missed it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

News moves too fast for me (but all I can say is it's getting yucky)

No, I'm sorry.  The principle still stands.  Either I'm responsible for my tweets and they belong to me or I can say whatever I wish because they belong to Twitter to do as they please.  In Web 2.0 land, making money out of advertisers seems fair game.  I can choose to click or not.

Twitter and Bing (or that retread of a remould)

This is definitely not what I was thinking about in my previous post!

Google Wave and working people

This project has arisen out of an initial contact with Google Wave. The idea which Google Wave represents seems sufficiently powerful to warrant exploring not how it could replace other social media technologies such as Twitter and Facebook but, rather, how it could help to begin to knit them all together in a more productive and efficient manner.