Hotel Facebook

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
’relax,’ said the night man,
We are programmed to receive.
You can checkout any time you like,
But you can never leave!   [...]

Apparently the UK government are revisiting the idea of net censorship, in the context of anti-terrorism.

UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith as reported in the “Guardian, Government targets extremist websites“:

Speaking to the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme before her speech, Smith said there were specific examples of websites that “clearly fall under the category of gratifying terrorism”. “There is growing evidence people may be using the internet both to spread messages and to plan specifically for terrorism,” she said. “That is why, as well as changing the law to make sure we can tackle that, there is more we need to do to show the internet is not a no-go area as far as tackling terrorism is concerned.”

This could go really wrong, really fast. Will we be allowed to read Bin Laden texts online? Hitler, Stalin? Talk to people who sympathise with organizations deemed terroristic? Who live in countries in the ‘axis of evil’? Doubtless the first sites to be targetted will be the most outrageous, but we’re on a slippery slope here.

It’s pretty much impossible to stop the online radicalisation of angry young men. But driving that process underground, and criminalising anyone on the fringes of the scene, will make it all the harder for calm voices and nuanced opinions to be heard. ‘Us and them’ is exactly what we don’t need right now.

OpenID and Wireless sharing

via Makenshi in #openid chat on Freenode IRC:

<Makenshi>: I found a wireless captive portal solution that supports openid.

With the newest release of CoovaAP, some new features in Chilli are demonstrated in combination with RADIUS to allow OpenID based authentication. (coova.org)

I’m happy to see this. It’s very close to some ideas I was discussing with Schuyler Earle and Jo Walsh some years ago around NoCatAuth, FOAF and community wireless. Some semweb stories may yet come to life.

At the moment, the options available for wireless ‘net sharing are typically: let everyone in, have a widely known secret for accessing your network, or let more or less nobody in without individually approving them. Although the likes of Bruce Schneier argue the merits of open wireless, most 802.11 kit now comes out of the box closed by default, and usually stay that way. Having a standards-based and decentralised way of saying “you can use my network, but only if you login with some identifiable public persona first” would be interesting.

OpenID takes away a significant part of the problem space, allowing experimentation with a whole range of socially oriented policies on top. Doubtless there are legal risks, big privacy issues, and lurking security concerns. But there is also potential for humanising interactions that are currently rather anonymous. In the city I live in, Bristol, there’s a community wireless effort, Bristol Wireless, as well as wireless Internet in countless local cafes. Plus commercial hotspots and whatever the city council are up to. Currently these are fragmented, and offer a variety of approaches. Could OpenID offer a common approach for Bristolians to connect? I like the idea that (for those that choose to ‘go public’) OpenIDs could link scattered presence across community sites. Having OpenID-based login used eg. for cafe-based access could be a nice step in that direction. But would people trust their local cafe to know what they’re doing online any more than they trust Google? Should they?

Flickr (Yahoo) upcoming support for OpenID

According to Simon Willison, Flickr look set to support OpenID by allowing your photostream URL (eg. for me, http://www.flickr.com/photos/danbri/) to serve as an OpenID, ie. something you can type wherever you see “login using OpenID” and be bounced to Flickr/Yahoo to provide credentials instead of remembering yet another password. This is rather good news.

For the portability-minded, it’s worth remembering that OpenID lets you put markup in your own Web page to devolve to such services. So my main OpenID is “danbri.org” , which is a document I control, on a domain that I own. In the HTML header I have the following markup:



<link rel="meta" type="application/rdf+xml" title="FOAF" href="http://danbri.org/foaf.rdf" />
<link rel="openid.server" href="http://www.livejournal.com/openid/server.bml" />
<link rel="openid.delegate" href="http://danbri.livejournal.com/" />

…which is enough to defer the details of being an OpenID provider to LiveJournal (thanks, LiveJournal!). Flickr are about to join the group of sites you can use in this way, it seems.

As an aside, this means that the security of our own websites becomes yet more important. Last summer, DreamHost (my webhosting provider) were compromised, and my own homepage was briefly decorated with viagra spam. Fortunately they didn’t touch seem to touch the OpenID markup, but you can see the risk. That’s the price of portability here. As Simon points out, we’ll probably all have several active OpenIDs, and there’s no need to host your own, just as there’s no need for people who want to publish online to buy and host their own domains or HTML sites.

The Flickr implementation, coupled with their existing API, means we could all offer things like “log into my personal site for family (or friends)” and defer buddylist – and FOAF – management to the well-designed Flickr site, assuming all your friends or family have Flickr accounts. Implementing this in a way that works with other providers (eg. LJ) is left as an excercise for the reader ;)

Bouncin’ around

A couple weeks ago, in a pathetic and greedsome bid to monetize you all, I added Google Adsense ads to this blog. Needless to say, the jaded foaftards who read this thing aren’t the kind to go all clicky-buyey on adverts. When I finally earn a whole dollar, I’ll celebrate by having it converted to hard currency and spend it on, er I dunno, charity. Meanwhile, the ad targetting engine is entertaining if nothing else. I’ll leave the thing running on archive pages, but it should be gone from the main page now.

Thanks to Bob DuCharme for pointing out that I’m apparently now endorsing rebounders.com, your one stop solution for post-breakup adult dating social networking. Thanks, Google. Maybe they caught me looking at the Internet Dating Conference website (they’re still looking for speakers btw)? Well I think not – I’ve decided that the ad targetting reflects more on their knowledge of danbri.org’s readership than on its author. There’s some logic to that, so thanks everyone…

Seriously, I am really suprised at how weak the Adsense targetting is. Google too often are treated as infallible gods, but the ad targetting I’ve seen so far feels like it’s done with grep. But I don’t have anything better right now, so I should shut up with the complaining. Here’s that ad again for those that missed it.

google ad

Open social networks: bring back Iran

Three years ago, we lost Iran from Internet community. I simplify somewhat, but forgivably. Many Iranian ISPs cut off access to blogs and social networking sites, on government order. At the time, Iran was one of the most active nations on Orkut; and Orkut was the network of choice, faster than the then-fading Friendster, but not yet fully eclipsed by MySpace. It provided a historically unprecedented chance for young people from Iran, USA, Europe and the world to hang out together in an online community. But when Orkut was blocked at the ISP level in Iran, pretty much nobody in the English-speaking blog-tech-pundit scene seemed to even notice. This continues to bug me. Web technologists apparantly care collectively more about freeing Robert Scoble’s addressbook from Facebook, than about the real potential for unmediated, uncensored, global online community.

Most folk in the US will never visit Iran, and vice-versa. And the press and government in both states are engaged in scary levels of sabre-rattling and demonisation. For me, one of the big motivations for working (through FOAF, SPARQL, XMPP and other technologies) on social networking interop, is so young people in the future can grow up naturally having friends in distant nations, regardless of whether their government thinks that’s a priority. If hundreds of blog posts can be written about the good Mr Scoble’s addressbook portability situation, why are thousands of posts not being written about the need for social networking tools to connect people regardless of nationality and national firewalls?

Some things are too important to leave to governments…

Update: a few hours after writing this, things get hairy in Hormuz.  Oof…

Imagemap magic

I’ve always found HTML imagemaps to be a curiously neglected technology. They seem somehow to evoke the Web of the mid-to-late 90s, to be terribly ‘1.0’. But there’s glue in the old horse yet…

A client-side HTML imagemap lets you associate links (and via Javascript, behaviour) with regions of an image. As such, they’re a form of image metadata that can have applications including image search, Web accessibility and social networking. They’re also a poor cousin to the Web’s new vector image format, SVG. This morning I dug out some old work on this (much of which from Max, Libby, Jim all of whom btw are currently working at Joost; as am I, albeit part-time).

The first hurdle you hit when you want to play with HTML imagemaps is finding an editor that produces them. The fact that my blog post asking for MacOSX HTML imagemap editors is now top Google hit for “MacOSX HTML imagemap” pretty much says it all. Eventually I found (and paid for) one called YokMak that seems OK.

So the first experiment here, was to take a picture (of me) and make a simple HTML imagemap.

danbri being imagemapped

As a step towards treating this as re-usable metadata, here’s imagemap2svg.xslt from Max back in 2002. The results of running it with xsltproc are online: _output.svg (you need an SVG-happy browser). Firefox, Safari and Opera seem more or less happy with it (ie. they show the selected area against a pink background). This shows that imagemap data can be freed from the clutches of HTML, and repurposed. You can do similar things server-side using Apache Batik, a Java SVG toolkit. There are still a few 2002 examples floating around, showing how bits of the image can be described in RDF that includes imagemap info, and then manipulated using SVG tools driven from metadata.

Once we have this ability to pick out a region of an image (eg. photo) and tag it, it opens up a few fun directions. In the FOAF scene a few years ago, we had fun using RDF to tag image region parts with information about the things they depicted. But we didn’t really get into questions of surface-syntax, ie. how to maker rich claims about the image area directly within the HTML markup. These days, some combination of RDFa or microformats would probably be the thing to use (or perhaps GRDDL). I’ve sent mail to the RDFa group looking for help with this (see that message for various further related-work links too).

Specifically, I’d love to have some clean HTML markup that said, not just “this area of the photo is associated with the URI http://danbri.org/”, but “this area is the Person whose openid is danbri.org, … and this area depicts the thing that is the primary topic of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiffel_Tower”. If we had this, I think we’d have some nice tools for finding images, for explaining images to people who can’t see them, and for connecting people and social networks through codepiction.

Codepiction