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…

Conspiracy Theory?

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t.

–Robert Benchley, Benchley’s Law of Distinction

From a recent Guardian article, “Police scrutinise extremist Islamist websites“:

Among the sites causing concern is Jihadunspun (JUS), a highly professional website which claims to present “a clear view of war on terror”. It has been widely criticised in the US by agencies including the state department.

Nearby in the Web, Google News carry the site, causing much grumbling amongst those who’ve noticed its iffy content.

Digging around a bit more unearthed a bit of controversy around the site, specifically, claims that it is a CIA front. For example, see commentary on the Wisdom Fund site, or Information Clearing House. Both of which draw attention to the Canadian hosting of the site, its use of PayPal to sell video content, etc.

Who to believe? :)

Rummaging on the JUS site itself, there’s a lengthy and peculiar story from its “owner and publisher”:

My name is Khadija Abdul Qahaar and I am the owner and publisher of Jihad Unspun. I am Muslim, who like many others, embraced Islam as the result of 911. Many of our viewers will know me as Bev Kennedy and Paul Morris-Read, the pen names I have used on this portal, a necessary precaution particularly in the early days of publishing this portal, due to the nature of our work. [...]

Most intriguingly…

For the curious, a copy of my CV is located here.

That article mentions “Bev’s” prior work in the Web industry, and her work for the “aerospace market”. The CV includes 1999-2003 as president/director/shareholder of DataCrafters Inc. Their website is now blank, but much of it is available through the Internet Archive. The Client Kudos section is interesting, as is the Before and after page, which features happy customer Royell Manufacturing, makers of aerospace parts. Back in the pre-9/11 copy of the site, the “spinbin” section had a press release announcing the release of the “eSYS Online Estimating System”, including a glowing quote from a Robin Crabb of Aeroalliance, (whose website is full of pictures of scary military jets):

“We are delighted that eSYS is now in beta testing. With feedback from high caliber Aeroalliance members like Royell, we are confident that we will have captured the ease of use and familiarity of process that aerospace manufacturers find appealing.”

The company seems to have had a lot of dealings with the military-tinged aerospace industry, before Bev switched to working on JUS. Bev’s autobiographical note on the JUS goes into some detail describing her change of heart, as – if you believe twf.org – does this lengthy letter, which also discusses the “CIA front” accusation. Whatever the truth, it’d make for a good movie.

I could go on, there’s plenty more out there on the site. It’s hard to know really what the Guardian guys should’ve done. Ten minutes of digging around the background to DataCrafters does suggest a remarkable change of heart, and one that’s not documented heavily on the JUS site.

Is the “this is a CIA front” accusation purely an exercise in tin-foil hattery? Who knows!

Another quote from the JUS site, puffing up the warmongering ‘clash of civilizations’ agenda…

I named the portal as a reference to Benjamin Barber’s best seller, Jihad vs. McWorld, an excellent work that explains the clash of two civilizations, but that entirely omits the reason why. The result was Jihad Unspun.

Update: there’s a huge and often silly, offensive etc thread on the libertyforum.org site. See also jihadunspun unhinged on the Internet Haganah site; they seems to take JUS seriously and quote from Bev’s JUS-hosted story:

Late in 2002, the Jewish vigilante groups struck with a vengeance. Through a stupid error on our part, we had a portfolio gallery showing off some of our client work on our web company’s website and after putting two and two together, they managed to access some of our client list. They of course went after the aerospace companies and I was forced to sell of my aerospace application at a significant loss and eventually I had shut down the company entirely in order to protect my clients.

I wonder what happens next…