Opening and closing like flowers (social platform roundupathon)

Closing some tabs…

Stephen Fry writing on ‘social network’ sites back in January (also in the Guardian):

…what an irony! For what is this much-trumpeted social networking but an escape back into that world of the closed online service of 15 or 20 years ago? Is it part of some deep human instinct that we take an organism as open and wild and free as the internet, and wish then to divide it into citadels, into closed-border republics and independent city states? The systole and diastole of history has us opening and closing like a flower: escaping our fortresses and enclosures into the open fields, and then building hedges, villages and cities in which to imprison ourselves again before repeating the process once more. The internet seems to be following this pattern.

How does this help us predict the Next Big Thing? That’s what everyone wants to know, if only because they want to make heaps of money from it. In 1999 Douglas Adams said: “Computer people are the last to guess what’s coming next. I mean, come on, they’re so astonished by the fact that the year 1999 is going to be followed by the year 2000 that it’s costing us billions to prepare for it.”

But let the rise of social networking alert you to the possibility that, even in the futuristic world of the net, the next big thing might just be a return to a made-over old thing.

McSweenys:

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

After checking many of the profiles on your website, I feel it is my duty to inform you that there are some serious errors present. [...]

Lest-we-forget. AOL search log privacy goofup from 2006:

No. 4417749 conducted hundreds of searches over a three-month period on topics ranging from “numb fingers” to “60 single men” to “dog that urinates on everything.”

And search by search, click by click, the identity of AOL user No. 4417749 became easier to discern. There are queries for “landscapers in Lilburn, Ga,” several people with the last name Arnold and “homes sold in shadow lake subdivision gwinnett county georgia.”

It did not take much investigating to follow that data trail to Thelma Arnold, a 62-year-old widow who lives in Lilburn, Ga., frequently researches her friends’ medical ailments and loves her three dogs. “Those are my searches,” she said, after a reporter read part of the list to her.

Time magazine punditising on iGoogle, Facebook and OpenSocial:

Google, which makes its money on a free and open Web, was not happy with the Facebook platform. That’s because what happens on Facebook stays on Facebook. Google would much prefer that you come out and play on its platform — the wide-open Web. Don’t stay behind Facebook’s closed doors! Hie thee to the Web and start searching for things. That’s how Google makes its money.

So, last fall, Google rallied all the other major social networks (MySpace, Bebo, Hi5 and so on) and announced a new initiative called OpenSocial. OpenSocial wants to be like Facebook’s platform, only much bigger: Widget makers can write applications for it and they can run anywhere — on MySpace, Bebo and Google’s own social network, Orkut, which is very big in Brazil.

Google’s platform could actually dwarf Facebook — if it ever gets off the ground.

Meanwhile on the widget and webapp security front, we have “BBC exposes Facebook flaw” (information about your buddies is accessible to apps you install; information about you is accessible to apps they install). Also see Thomas Roessler’s comments to my Nokiana post for links to a couple of great presentations he made on widget security. This includes a big oopsie with the Google Mail widget for MacOSX. Over in Ars Technica we learn that KDE 4.1 alpha 1 now has improved widget powers, including “preliminary support for SuperKaramba and Mac OS X Dashboard widgets“. Wonder if I can read my Gmail there…

As Stephen Fry says,  these things are “opening and closing like a flower”. The big hosted social sites have a certain oversimplifying retardedness about them. But the ability for code to go visit data (the widget/gadget model), is I think as valid as the opendata model where data flows around to visit code. I am optimistic that good things will come out of this ferment.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting several of the Google OpenSocial crew in London. They took my grumbling about accessibility issues pretty well, and I hope to continue that conversation. Industry politics and punditry aside, I’m impressed with their professionalism and with the tie-in to an opensource implementation through Apache’s ShinDig project. The OpenSocial specs list is open to the public, where Cassie has just announced that “all 0.8 opensocial and gadgets spec changes have been resolved” (after a heroic slog through the issue list). I’m barely tracking the detail of discussion there, things are moving fast. There’s now a proposed REST API, for example; and I learned in London about plans for a formatting/templating system, which might be one mechanism for getting FOAF/RDF out of OpenSocial containers.

If OpenSocial continues to grow and gather opensource mindshare, it’s possible Facebook will throw some chunks of their platform over the wall (ie. “do an Adobe“). And it’ll probably be left to W3C to clean up the ensuring mess and fragmentation, but I guess that’s what they’re there for. Meanwhile there’s plenty yet to be figured out, … I think we’re in a pre-standards experimentation phase, regardless of how stable or mature we’re told these platforms are.

The fundamental tension here is that we want open data, open platforms, … for data and code to flow freely, but to protect the privacy, lives and blushes of those it describes. A tricky balance. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy, that we’ve got it figured out, or that all we need to do is “tear down the walls”.

Opening and closing like flowers…

BBC joining OpenID Foundation

The BBC have joined the OpenID Foundation. See blog post from Jem Stone for details. He cautions people not to get excited and expect too much too soon. However I can’t help but see this as a very healthy thing when thinking about the medium-term usability issues around OpenID. Talking of which, does anyone have pointers to real-world usability testing of OpenID?

Chocolate Teapot

chocolate teapot

Michael Sparks in the BBC Backstage permathread on DRM:

However any arguments based on open standards do need to take facts into account though. Such as this one: The BBC is currently required by the rights holders to use DRM.

Tell me how you can have a DRM system that’s completely free software, and I’ll readily listen and push for such an approach. (I doubt I’ll get anywhere, but I’ll try)

The two ideas strike me as fundamentally opposed concepts. After all one tries to protect your right to use your system in any way you like (for me modifying it the system is a use), whereas the other tries to prevent you using your computer to do something. I’ve said this before of course. No-one has yet said how they’d securely prevent trivial access to the keys and trivially prevent data dumping (ala vlc’s dump to disk option).

So personally I can’t actually see how you can have a completely free software DRM system and have that system viewed as _sufficiently secure_ from the DRM proponents side of things. Kinda like a chocolate tea pot. I like to be proved wrong about things things. (chocolate is good too)

I like this explanation. It kinda captures why I’ve been happy working at Joost. Content’s the thing, and vast amounts of content simply won’t go online in a stable, referenceable, linkable, annotable, decoratable form unless the people who made it or own it are happy. Which, in the current climate (including background conditions like capitalism and a legal system) I think means DRM and closed source. I love Creative Commons, grassroots content, free, alternative and webcam-sourced content. But I also want the telly that I grew up watching to find it’s way into more public spaces. If the price of this happening now rather than in a decade’s time is DRM and closed source, I’m ok with that. Software is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

All that said, I’d also like a chocolate teapot, of course. Who wouldn’t?

ps. and yes, I did Google to make sure that “chocolate teapot” isn’t some terrifying sexual practice. It doesn’t appear to be, and I’m left wondering whether it’s Englishness or the Internet that has warped my brain to the extend that I’d even consider such an interpretation of this lovely phrase… I blame the “Carry On” films….

IM/RSS bot – BBC Persian News Flash

OK this is old news, but pretty cool so I’m happy to write it up belatedly.

I just logged into MSN chat, and was greeted by Mario Menti’s IM bot, which provides a text-chat UI for navigating the BBC’s news feeds from their Persian service. I’m pasting the output here, hoping it’ll display reasonably. I can’t read a word of it of course, but remember Ian Forrester’s XTech talk a few years back about the headaches for getting I18N right for such feeds (and the varying performance of newsreader clients with right-to-left and mixed direction text). This hack came out of a conversation with Mario and Ian around the BBC Backstage scene, and from comments from a couple of friends in Tehran, this sort of technology direction is much appreciated by those whose news access is restricted. The bot is called bbcpersian at hotmail.co.uk, and seems to still be running 18 months later. See also some more recent hacks from Mario that wire up BBC feeds to twitter.

BBC Persian News Flash says: (23:01:02)

Hi, this is your hourly BBCPersian.com news flash with the 10 most recent new items
1 افزایش نیروها در عراق ‘درحال نتیجه دادن است’
2 انتقاد شدید کروبی از ‘مخالفان احزاب’
3 نواز شریف از پاکستان اخراج شد
4 بازداشت یکی از ‘قاچاقچیان بزرگ’ کلمبیا
5 ترکیه: کشورهای منطقه از اقدامات تنش زا دوری کنند
6 ‘عاشقان قلندر’ جشنواره ای دیگر برپا کردند
7 کاهش ساعت کار ادارات دولتی ایران در ماه رمضان
8 ‘عراقیها احساس امنیت بیشتری نمی کنند’
9 نواز شریف از پاکستان اخراج شد
10 شرکت مردم گواتمالا در انتخابات این کشور

Reply with number 1 to 10 to see more information, or any other message if you want to stop receiving these news flashes

Anyone know what the state of the art is with IM-based feed readers? or have a wishlist?