Culture & Society

Referendum: some further links

Some other pieces I've found valuable, most of which have appeared since my last post.


Screen Shot 2016-06-19






Social camera

Skyline

I got to handle a Nex-5N yesterday, thanks to Timo, and it felt very good in the hand — lovely size and weight, easy to grip and manipulate. And when kitted out with the beautiful Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 lens it’s still small and nifty — much smaller than the review photos make it look.

What I want out of a camera is something that doesn’t get in my way — as I travel and walk, and as I take photos or shoot video. It also needs to be as inconspicuous as possible. On Thursday, Mads (23 Video) showed me his iPhone 4S video kit, a perfect lightweight assemblage of monopod, iPhone and OWLE:

Mads demos his iPhone video kit Mads demos his iPhone video kit Mads demos his iPhone video kit Mads demos his iPhone video kit Mads demos his iPhone video kit

Living off the iPhone (4) camera for much of this year has been most interesting, and once again I’ve found myself wondering how long it will be before we see traditional camera manufacturers incorporating the social and contextual into their cameras in imaginative and fulfilling ways. Christian Lindholm wrote last week: ‘Imagine a camera manufacturer turning the camera into … a social app platform for imaging. … who is going to do this. … This is in my mind the future of digital cameras, a social camera. A type of 21st century extension of the Brownie box’. (Of course, it may be all too late for any kind of triumph — skating to where the puck is, not where it’s going to be. I think of John Gruber’s comment on the ‘iPhone 4S Camera Made by Sony’ story.)

I overlooked this interview with Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom in my last post:

“What interests us are the natural limits in terms of how many people are owning these phones, whether that’s Apple, or Android or whatever it is. I don’t foresee a future where people don’t have some sort of phone that’s like a computer. I don’t foresee a future where those phones don’t have cameras in them. That spells a future where smartphones are the status quo. You have to ask yourself how you allow people to communicate what’s in their lives,” says Systrom. “I don’t like the idea of Instagram as a photo sharing service, and I don’t think it is,” says Systrom, “it’s very much a communication tool, it’s a visual communications tool. The printing press did something really big for the world when everyone could get books in their hands and read. I’m not saying we’re a printing press, but I am saying technology pushes people forward in some way and unlocks potential. We’re not focused on how we can make toys, we’re focused on how do we change the world in some real way. Like, how many companies have been handed the opportunity to get 15 million users in the first year? Not many. We want to take this ticket and ride.”

Whatever dedicated camera I buy this year will surely look strangely isolated in just a few years — capable, for sure, of being linked up to the larger world, in which my photos are taken and then shared (made part of conversations), but only by making the tiresome journey from hardware to software to web to social networks, a journey that, increasingly, is just being taken care of by the cameras most of us now carry with us every day: ‘iPhone photography is so much more though. It’s the ability to instantly capture what you see, edit and share it with someone or everyone’. (HT Alex for this link.)

What I want out of a camera is something that doesn’t get in my way. There will be times when I most definitely do not want to go the social, digital route, but I do want the “it just works” option.

Let’s Adore And Endure Each Other


Out of touch

We’ve been away and without connectivity for much of the last week. And what a week to choose. This summer will live in memory for its news and events. Some days, the real world is more like theatre than theatre is.

Through tools such as Reeder, and the many eyes and ears of Twitter, we just about kept abreast, snatching 3G, EDGE or feeble GPRS where location permitted, and quickly learning where towns and villages could give us WiFi. (A shout-out here for the excellent Toucan Café in Minehead, its good food and free wireless.)

Back home, I’ve caught up in detail on the accumulated reading. I wish it had been less dispiriting. It’s come to something when, as Euan said, Russell Brand is more credible than the Prime Minister.

Some of what I’ve been reading about the unrest in England, on Pinboard.


Auden: aspects of our present Weltanschauung

Looking for something in Auden, I hit another passage, about human nature, art, tradition and originality (below), that I couldn’t put my finger on when I last needed it a few months ago. We’re edging towards the World Brain, but it can’t come fast enough:

It seems possible that in the near future, we shall have microscopic libraries of record, in which a photograph of every important book and document in the world will be stowed away and made easily available for the inspection of the student…. The general public has still to realize how much has been done in this field and how many competent and disinterested men and women are giving themselves to this task. The time is close at hand when any student, in any part of the world, will be able to sit with his projector in his own study at his or her convenience to examine any book, any document, in an exact replica. — H G Wells, ‘The Brain Organization of the Modern World’ (1937)

Auden. I’ve often referred to this passage and am very happy to make it ready to hand through pinning it here:

3) The loss of belief in a norm of human nature which will always require the same kind of man-fabricated world to be at home in. … until recently, men knew and cared little about cultures far removed from their own in time or space; by human nature, they meant the kind of behaviour exhibited in their own culture. Anthropology and archaeology have destroyed this provincial notion: we know that human nature is so plastic that it can exhibit varieties of behaviour which, in the animal kingdom, could only be exhibited by different species.

The artist, therefore, no longer has any assurance, when he makes something, that even the next generation will find it enjoyable or comprehensible.

He cannot help desiring an immediate success, with all the danger to his integrity which that implies.

Further, the fact that we now have at our disposal the arts of all ages and cultures, has completely changed the meaning of the word tradition. It no longer means a way of working handed down from one generation to the next; a sense of tradition now means a consciousness of the whole of the past as present, yet at the same time as a structured whole the parts of which are related in terms of before and after. Originality no longer means a slight modification in the style of one’s immediate predecessors; it means a capacity to find in any work of any date or place a clue to finding one’s authentic voice. The burden of choice and selection is put squarely upon the shoulders of each individual poet and it is a heavy one.

It’s from ‘The Poet and The City’, which I think appeared first in the Massachusetts Review in 1962 and was then included in The Dyer’s Hand (1963). Lots in this essay. ‘There are four aspects of our present Weltanschauung which have made an artistic vocation more difficult than it used to be.’ The others:

1) The loss of belief in the eternity of the physical universe. … Physics, geology and biology have now replaced this everlasting universe with a picture of nature as a process in which nothing is now what it was or what it will be.

We live now among ‘sketches and improvisations’.

2) The loss of belief in the significance and reality of sensory phenomena. … science has destroyed our faith in the naive observation of our senses: we cannot … ever know what the physical universe is really like; we can only hold whatever subjective notion is appropriate to the particular purpose we have in view. This destroys the traditional conception of art as mimesis …

4) The disappearance of the Public Realm as the sphere of revelatory personal deeds. To the Greeks the Private Realm was the sphere of life ruled by the necessity of sustaining life, and the Public Realm the sphere of freedom where a man could disclose himself to others. Today, the significance of the terms private and public has been reversed; public life is the necessary impersonal life, the place where a man fulfils his social function, and it is in his private life that he is free to be his personal self.


‘Sorley’: Gaelic for wanderer

Charles Hamilton Sorley, 1895–1915. He left just 37 complete poems. Adapted from The Oxford Companion to English Literature (1989): 

His posthumous collection, Marlborough and Other Poems (1916), was a popular and critical success in the 1920s, but he has since been neglected, though championed by Robert Graves amongst others. Graves said of Sorley that, with Owen and Rosenberg, he ‘was one of the three poets of importance killed during the War’. The best known of his poems include, ‘The Song of the Ungirt Runners’, ‘Barbury Camp’, and the last, bitter ‘When you see millions of the mouthless dead’ — found in the author’s kit sent home from France after his death.

Sorley’s father, describing his son’s life in a preface (1919) to Marlborough and Other Poems:

He was educated at Marlborough College, which he entered in September 1908 and left in December 1913, after obtaining a scholarship at University College, Oxford. Owing to the war he never went into residence at the University. After leaving school he spent a little more than six months in Germany, first at Schwerin in Mecklenburg and afterwards, for the summer session, at the University of Jena. He was on a walking tour on the banks of the Moselle when the European war broke out. He was put in prison at Trier on the 2nd August, but released the same night with orders to leave the country. After some adventures he reached home on the 6th, and at once applied for a commission in the army. He was gazetted Second Lieutenant in the Seventh (Service) Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment before the end of the month, Lieutenant in November, and Captain in the following August. He was sent to France with his battalion on 30th May 1915, and served for some months in the trenches round Ploegsteert. Shortly after he had entered upon his life there, a suggestion was made to him about printing a slim volume of verse. But he put the suggestion aside as premature. ‘Besides,’ he added, ‘this is no time for oliveyards and vineyards, more especially of the small-holdings type. For three years or the duration of the war, let be.’ Four months later his warfare was accomplished. His battalion was moved south to take part in the battle of Loos, and he fell on 13th October 1915, in an attack in which the “hair-pin” trench near Hulluch was captured by his company. ‘Being made perfect in a little while, he fulfilled long years.’

When I read his letters and papers, I am always taken aback by the voice that comes through — its unexpected modernity and warm intimacy:

… poetry up till now has been mainly by and for and about the Upper Classes … The voice of our poets and men of letters (ie, contemporary writers) is finely trained and sweet to hear: it teems with sharp saws and rich sentiment: it is a marvel of delicate technique: it pleases, it flatters, it charms, it soothes: it is a living lie. … all true poets (that is, poets who insist on truth) have been consciously or unconsciously in revolt. (From papers on Masefield and on Housman, read to the Marlborough College Literary Society, 3 November, 1912 and 15 May, 1913, respectively)

… the penalty of belonging to a public school is that one plays before the looking-glass all the time and has to think about the impression one is making. And as public schools are run on the worn-out fallacy that there can’t be progress without competition, games as well as everything else degenerate into a means of giving free play to the lower instincts of man. … One is positively encouraged to confuse strength of character with petty self-assertion, and conscientiousness with Phariseeism. (Letters: 25 February, and early April, 1914)

Do you know that Richard Jefferies, the greatest of English visionaries, felt exactly the same about the high parts of the downs as you? That you climbed great hills that should overlook the sea, but you could see no sea. Only the whole place is like a vast sea-shell where you can hear the echoes of the sea that has once filled it. Du Gott! One can really live up there! The earth even more than Christ is the ultimate ideal of what man should strive to be. (Letter: 14 November, 1914)

There is no such thing as a just war. What we are doing is casting out Satan by Satan. (Letter: March 1915)

Sorley is the Gaelic for wanderer. I have had a conventional education: Oxford would have corked it. But this has freed the spirit, glory be. Give me The Odyssey, and I return the New Testament to store. Physically as well as spiritually, give me the road. (Letter: 16 June, 1915)

… out in front at night in that no-man’s land and long graveyard there is a freedom and a spur. Rustling of the grasses and grave-tapping of distant workers: the tension and silence of encounter, when one struggles in the dark for moral victory over the enemy patrol: the wail of the exploded bomb and the animal cries of wounded men. The death and the horrible thankfulness when one sees that the next man is dead: ‘We won’t have to carry him in under fire, thank God; dragging will do’: hauling in of the great resistless body in the dark, the smashed head rattling: the relief, the relief that the thing has ceased to groan: that the bullet or bomb that made the man an animal has now made the animal a corpse. One is hardened now: purged of all false pity: perhaps more selfish than before. The spiritual and the animal get so much more sharply divided in hours of encounter, taking possession of the body by swift turns. (Letter: 26 August, 1915)

I can now understand the value of dogma, which is the General Commander-in-Chief of the mind. I am now beginning to think that free thinkers should give their minds into subjection, for we who have given our actions and volitions into subjection gain such marvellous rest thereby. Only of course it is the subjection of their powers of will and deed to a wrong master on the part of a great nation that has led Europe into war. Perhaps afterwards, I and my like will again become indiscriminate rebels. For the present we find high relief in making ourselves soldiers. … Ridley [a close friend at Marlborough and a Captain in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers] … recovered from his wound … Ridley with whom I brewed, ‘worked’ and shared a study, and quarrelled absolutely unceasingly for over three years. We have so thoroughly told each other all each other’s faults and oddities for so long a time that nothing now could part our friendship. (Letter to the Master of Marlborough College.
 One of three last letters, all dated 5 October, 1915.)

Eight days later, Sorley was killed, shot through the head by a sniper. He was 20.
 Herbert Ridley won an MC in 1917 and was killed in action at Ypres on 15 July that year, aged 23.

The Letters of Charles Sorley (CUP, 1919)

 Marlborough and Other Poems (fifth edition, CUP, 1922)

The Collected Letters of Charles Hamilton Sorley (Cecil Woolf, 1990)


‘My client is civilisation’

0169-a.jpg

There’s an interview with Stewart Brand in Volume, 24 — Counterculture: ‘With the help of countercultural figures, historians and architects, this issue of Volume examines the popularized characteristics of the 60s that have influenced our beliefs about technology, the environment and community’. Fred Turner country. From Jeffrey Inaba’s introduction to the issue:

At first glance, what appears prescient about the 60s when looking at current American culture is the preoccupation then and now with computer technology, the natural environment and alternative forms of community; but today each is disconnected from the radical political action and oppositional ideologies of the earlier era. For instance, concern for the planet, which was cast as flaky and indulgent, is shared by the majority of people despite the ideological differences between the counterculture and popular American opinion now. Sustainability is so much a part of our collective economic consciousness that its importance is cited in business sectors – like real estate development – which once ardently resisted entertaining pro-environmental stances. Similarly, the communal principles of the counterculture – such as participation, sharing information, erring on the side of social inclusion, networking and identifying areas of agreement with others in order to form collaborations – are the basic axioms for building social capital now.

*

SB: My client is civilisation and my approach is that of a hacker: to figure out the shortcuts that make things happen. …

JI: … What’s your definition of a hacker?

SB: Lazy engineer. The aspect of hacking that appeals to me is looking for the fiendishly clever shortcut. A ‘real’ engineer will do the homework – do the calculations, run the prototypes – all the necessary stuff to make something work. A hacker is usually looking for an easy solution. The code still has to run – it has to do whatever it is you’re attempting. But a hacker tries to find a way to do it with minimal effort, which is considered good; or with great cleverness, which is considered extra good. Fun is finessing an outcome. Stuff like that is just being lazy, and lazy is not necessarily bad. I was trained in the army to be a lazy officer. The worst officer is stupid and industrious. The best officer is brilliant and lazy. I don’t think I would be accused of industry. …

JI: … Would you consider yourself a hacker of policy? From what you say in your book, stewardship of the planet involves vigilance in monitoring all technologies and then deciding to employ some with great speed. Do you look for shortcuts to put into service technologies because the process of governments, institutions, and concerned individuals carefully weighing a technology’s consequences takes time?

SB: Some technologies take off on their own. Cell phones took off in very short order to the great benefit of all. Wikipedia and Google took off that way. The things that people see as beneficial and that don’t do recognizable harm can move quickly. But like you say, by far the best approach with complex systems is diplomatic negotiation with a lot of vigilance to ensure that things don’t go astray.

JI: The last chapter of Whole Earth Discipline is on statecraft. You start it with the Marshall McLuhan quote: ‘After Sputnik there is no nature, only art’. What significance does that statement have in relation to the responsibilities of governance and policymaking?

SB: It’s probably the most radical comment he ever made. Sputnik was shorthand for acting at a planetary scale. We consequently bear a completely different relation to everything on Earth and can no longer treat it, meaning nature, as existing independent of our own artifice – our own purposeful intentions.


‘the more I write, the more I shall have to write ... I shall never overtake myself’

I go silent on my blog without explanation. It may seem, in the short-term, like a blip, but in the long-term … the pattern becomes clear. — Tom Armitage, ‘Telling Stories’ (Reboot 8, Copenhagen, 2006) (pdf)

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months paring and pruning, trying to focus more closely on the things which really matter to me. I’ve got something to put down here soon about attention and curation, but before this new year runs away with me and everything, yet again, tilts Tristram Shandy–wards, I thought I might look back, sum up, take stock (a bit).

Here’s something I wrote for our annual school magazine about last year’s talks. (It goes over some of what I’ve written about here during 2009–2010 and I’ve given the links, in square brackets, where that’s the case.) It's very … potted.

ICT Talks 2009–10

This year, our talks continued to cross disciplines. We kicked off with Andy Huntington (RCA graduate, designer, musician) on interaction design [see 20.9.2009 entry]. In Digital Ground (MIT, 2004), Malcolm McCullough set out how interaction design ‘studies how people deal with technology — and how people deal with each other, through technology. As a consequence of pervasive computing, interaction design is poised to become one of the main liberal arts of the twenty-first century’. Andy, who has worked on interactive objects and experiences for clients from the BBC and the Science Museum to Nokia and the Bartlett School of Architecture, talked us through tapTap (‘The system is built up of individual knock boxes. Each box has its own memory and is completely self-contained. As you tap on the top of a box, the box waits for a few seconds and then taps back what it has heard. If you want more you add another box, and another, and another, tap, tap, tap’) and Beatbox (‘a physical programmable drum machine’). Later in the autumn we were delighted to welcome Usman Haque, architect and co-founder of Pachube (‘store, share & discover realtime sensor, energy and environment data from objects, devices & buildings around the world’):

Usman Haque

The domain of architecture has been transformed by developments in interaction research, wearable computing, mobile connectivity, people-centered design, contextual awareness, RFID systems and ubiquitous computing. These technologies alter our understanding of space and change the way we relate to each other. We no longer think of architecture as static and immutable; instead we see it as dynamic, responsive and conversant. Our projects explore some of this territory. — Haque Design + Research

Playing with tapTap and Beatbox, thinking how objects are now interacting with us through the internet, reflecting on how we can use Pachube … Ubiquitous computing has well and truly arrived and, as McCullough foresaw, educators need to address interaction design as a matter of urgency.

Also in the autumn, Adrian Hon came to talk about his games company, Six to Start [see 30.9.2009 entry]. He began by looking at the role of story-telling in human society, the reception of the first European novels, the ways in which our strong identification with literary heroes and heroines has been elicited and the striking role now played in our lives by online text. The main part of his talk focused on We Tell Stories — a project developed for Penguin: ‘six stories, written by six authors, told in six different ways — ways that could only happen on the web … released over six weeks’. Adrian, who left a career in neuroscience to co-found Six to Start with his brother, sets great store by narrative: ‘Writers are important. When a game’s graphics grow old, and the game mechanics become dated, all that’s left to remember is the story. As designers and writers of games, we all need to set a higher bar for ourselves’. His ambition for games is, indeed, remarkable: ‘Historians will look back hundreds of years from now, and they will say that the explosion of narrative and game forms that we have now was a momentous time that transformed the way that people think and see the world. … It’s hard to imagine a world without books; without Lord of the Rings, or Catch 22, or Pride and Prejudice, or Great Expectations. Equally, it’s already hard to imagine a world without games. Just imagine where we’ll be in a few decades time. We have the opportunity to make those new types of games and stories that will changes people’s lives in the future, and there are so many possibilities.’

Professor Chris Frith, FRS, talked about how our brain generates emotions and thoughts and he was followed soon afterwards by Professor James Paul Gee, the distinguished American scholar, on games and learning. In his book, Making up the Mind [see 22.9.2009 entry], Frith argues that, ‘on the basis of its belief about the world, my brain can predict the pattern of activity that should be detected by my eyes, ears and other senses … So what happens if there is an error in this prediction? These errors are very important because my brain can use them to update its belief about the world and create a better belief … Once this update has occurred, my brain has a new belief about the world and it can repeat the process. It makes another prediction about the patterns of activity that should be detected by my senses. Each time my brain goes round this loop the prediction error will get smaller. Once the error is sufficiently small, my brain “knows” what is out there. And this all happens so rapidly that I have no awareness of this complex process. … my brain never rests from this endless round of prediction and updating’. In Gee’s thought, the world of a complex game mirrors the functioning of the mind: ‘We run videogames in our heads’ [see 30.10.2009 entry]. At the heart of his critical understanding of games is the idea of situated meanings and their role in learning. Games are about problem-solving. Today’s problems are now all complex ones — complexity and complex systems interacting. Today, we must be able to work way beyond standard skills, learning how to be part of a cross-functional team — a very high order skill common to play in many games.

Another theme this year has been how we are living in a time when information is becoming more accessible. We welcomed Timo Hannay, publishing director of Web Publishing at Nature Publishing, to talk about open science and in March we had the opportunity to hear Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia [see 22.3.2010 entry]. Timo spoke about the nature of early scientific publishing and the rise of the expensive (and therefore relatively inaccessible) specialist journal. He explained projects he has helped to develop at Nature, including Connotea, a social bookmarking service for scientists, Nature Network (a social network for scientists) and Nature Precedings (‘a platform for sharing new and preliminary findings with colleagues on a global scale’). Jimmy, arriving straight from Heathrow, spoke to a packed hall on the origins, vision and role of Wikipedia. One thing to emerge from this very well-received talk: about 80% of the students present had edited Wikipedia. Next day at a Guardian conference for heads of media, the same question from Jimmy revealed that only about 30% of that audience had edited the online encyclopaedia.

Another highlight of the year was the chance to hear Stewart Brand and Brian Eno talk about the Long Now and Brand’s new book, Whole Earth Discipline.

Stewart Brand & Brian Eno
The idea of the active intellectual is very important, Brand said, and we’re very pleased that St Paul’s is the first school in the UK to join the Long Now and engage with its commitment to long-term thinking and sustainable living. This takes us neatly back to Pachube and the way we interact with technology. The future requires that the young grow up learning about the history of technology, of man’s long journey of inventiveness in manipulating nature and of the possibilities, for good and ill, that lie in this relationship we have with our world.


Facebook, 2010

Where would we be without Facebook? For one thing, I could be spending time much more happily — reading, writing, gardening, walking … instead of trying to follow the labyrinth that is Facebook. 

The developments announced on 21 April have taken some time to digest and even now I’m not satisfied that we’re clear what differentiation there is for users below the age of 18. But in any case, I noticed last autumn that some users applying for university places were tidying up their profiles and photo albums — and, of course, for a number of these young students their eighteenth birthday was then upon them or imminent. Time-clocks ticking, biologically and digitally.

I posted something on our intranet today about the latest changes. The context and purpose required my having to overlook the good in all Facebook announced. Chris Messina wrote about this, as did David Recordon and DeWitt Clinton. But, as Tom Watson re-tweeted, ‘Facebook privacy settings are the new programming your VCR’ and, as several friends found, the post-f8 experience was … trying. (See Tony Hirst’s Keeping Up with Facebook Privacy Changes (Again) and Why I Joined the Facebook Privacy Changes Backlash…)

I would love, too, to have got more into my intranet posting of danah boyd’s latest writings on privacy, personal data, trust, context and the web (see, eg, Putting Privacy Settings in the Context of Use (in Facebook and elsewhere)Facebook’s move ain’t about changes in privacy norms — ‘Privacy is about having control of a situation. It’s about controlling what information flows where and adjusting measures of trust when things flow in unexpected ways. It’s about creating certainty so that we can act appropriately. People still care about privacy because they care about control’; Privacy and Publicity in the Context of Big Data — ‘Privacy is not about control over data nor is it a property of data. … it’s about having control over a situation. It’s about understanding the audience and knowing how far information will flow. It’s about trusting the people, the situating, and the context.  People seek privacy so that they can make themselves vulnerable in order to gain something: personal support, knowledge, friendship, etc.’). But I hope I hinted at some of this just enough.

The difficulty with something as complex as these latest changes is not to put the reader off entirely and I asked a couple of folks, a student and a colleague, to vet the post first, fearing it was a swamp of detail. But as John (student) said: ‘On the issue of the information being a “swamp”‚ there’s not much anyone can do about it: Facebook privacy settings appear deliberately difficult to learn about and change. It reads well in despite of this.’ Kind words — and here’s the posting (it may have use beyond its immediate … context).

*****

Facebook and Privacy — May, 2010 

‘it may be best if you just assume that everything on Facebook will be public from now on and act accordingly’

 RWW: Facebook’s High Pressure Tactics: Opt-in or Else


Last December, Facebook changed its privacy settings. These and their implications were summarised on our intranet at the time.

On 21 April, Facebook announced a number of further, complicated changes. Some of the features users now need to understand include the following. All have privacy implications. (Note: if you have previously adjusted your privacy settings and not accepted Facebook's defaults, your experience of one or more of these new features may differ in some ways from what follows. You should check.)

  • Community Pages: a new kind of Page, replacing interests and activities. These pages are public.
  • Connected Profiles: opt-in, but ‘if you refuse to link to these new Pages, your profile information will be removed and your profile page will be left empty.’ — RWW: Facebook’s High Pressure Tactics: Opt-in or Else
  • Connections: treated as public information.
  • “Like” button: ‘When you click the button on an external website, you authorize Facebook to publish your activity to your Facebook profile (which, in turn, will also be published to your friends’ news feeds). Also, when your friends visit the external site, they will see that you’ve visited that site, too.’ — PCWorld: Facebook: 5 Privacy Settings You Must Tweak Now
  • Instant Personalisation (currently, this involves just three sites: Microsoft DocsPandoraYelp). The “Allow” checkbox for Instant Personalization is on by default — you have to opt out. If you don’t opt out, ‘when you visit these sites, they can pull in information from your Facebook account, which includes your name, profile picture, gender and connections (and any other information that you’ve made visible to the public).’ — PCWorld: Facebook: 5 Privacy Settings You Must Tweak Now

There’s a summary and “translation” of most of these terms (along with some others) on the EFF site: A Handy Facebook-to-English Translator. If you’re on Facebook, you should read this.

Within a week of the April announcement, 50,000 websites had already integrated with Facebook’s new social plugins (such as the “Like” button), including major sites such as CNN and The New York Times.

You also need to appreciate that Facebook applications access your personal data:

… many everyday Facebook users were shocked to find that applications (like quizzes) could access almost everything on a user profile, including hometown, groups you belong to, events attended, favorite books, and more. What’s worse is that your profile information becomes available to developers when your friends take the same quiz. — RWW: How to Delete Facebook Applications (and Why You Should)

That last point is important: for example, ‘Even if you opt out of Instant Personalization, there’s still data leakage if your friends use Instant Personalization websites — their activities can give away information about you, unless you block those applications individually.’ — EFF: A Handy Facebook-to-English Translator.

Whereas until 21 April Facebook apps could only store your data for 24 hours, now your data can be retained indefinitely.


All Facebook users would do well to look at another EFF post, Facebook’s Eroding Privacy Policy: A Timeline (‘Watch closely as your privacy disappears, one small change at a time!’). From there:

Since its incorporation just over five years ago, Facebook has undergone a remarkable transformation. When it started, it was a private space for communication with a group of your choice. Soon, it transformed into a platform where much of your information is public by default. Today, it has become a platform where you have no choice but to make certain information public, and this public information may be shared by Facebook with its partner websites and used to target ads.

Last week, Nick Bilton, Lead Technology Writer, The New York Timesreported on Twitter:

2010-04-29_23.26.53 adjusted.jpg


There’s huge value to personalisation and to sharing information. As Mark Zuckerberg wrote on 21 April: ‘if you’re logged into Facebook and go to Pandora for the first time, it can immediately start playing songs from bands you’ve liked across the web. And as you’re playing music, it can show you friends who also like the same songs as you, and then you can click to see other music they like’.

But personalisation means accepting some loss of privacy and you need to assess the value and the “risks” of this for yourself. Above all, users want to be in control of the context in which their information is used and when a company makes changes which affect this you simply must re-assess the situation.

The advice at the top of this page should be heeded: ‘it may be best if you just assume that everything on Facebook will be public from now on and act accordingly’.


A video and some links you may find helpful:

  (the blog post referred to in the video: EFF: How to Opt Out of Facebook’s Instant Personalization)

PCWorld: Facebook: 5 Privacy Settings You Must Tweak Now

RWW: How to Delete Facebook Applications (and Why You Should)

Facebook: de-activating your account (you need to be logged in to Facebook to see this link)

Facebook: deleting your account (you need to be logged in to Facebook to see this link)


Who's programming the TiVo?

Jimmy Wales

Last Wednesday, it was my great pleasure to welcome Jimmy Wales to talk at school: ‘Wikipedia and Wikia : Free Culture for a Free World’. About 300 students and staff came to hear him, filling our main hall. Feedback has been very warm and appreciative (‘the best talk I’ve been to in my five years here’, ‘a once in a lifetime opportunity’, ‘the ethos of Wikipedia/Wikia is so inspiring’). We filmed the talk and Jimmy’s given us his slides and we’ll be posting these. I’m very grateful to him for coming, fitting us in during a short visit to London.

Early on in his hour with us, Jimmy asked how many of those there had ever edited Wikipedia. He reckoned about 80% of the students had. I wasn’t expecting that high a figure. As Chris said to me the next day, at the Guardian Changing Media Summit, the fact that that is going on, with no-one knowing the extent of it until the question is asked, is really appropriate to the nature of the project and the software.

There was a moment at the Guardian event that I hadn’t been expecting, either: Jimmy asked the media crowd how many of them had edited Wikipedia — about 30%. He then told them about the previous day: ‘yesterday I spoke at St Paul’s and the percentage was about 80% — so you’re behind. But don’t feel too bad about it: my daughter programs our TiVo.’ :) I heard some gasps from his audience.

The best unexpected moment on Friday of last week came when I was teaching ICT to a class of 13 year-olds: I must have said in passing how some folks at the Guardian event had tweeted about what Jimmy had said and, without my prompting, two of the class immediately searched Twitter (on “st pauls school”; “#cms2010 pauls” is, unsurprisingly, my search — same results):

2010-03-18_22.48.39 Wikipedia.jpeg

Two savvy, fast 13 year-olds, an impressed teacher and an excited class.

Just before Jimmy Wales came to school, I found out that we have a young student likely to become a Wikipedia admin. If this happens, he’ll be the second student (to the best of my knowledge) to become an admin whilst still at school here. (Alex became one in his final year with us — 2007/8.)

A parent wrote to me last week about his son editing Wikipedia: ‘in today’s interconnected way, this is the way to go and who knows what will happen then — expert status will allow him to develop other skills and is an asset in and of itself. It has also provided amazing learning for him.’

I find all this quite remarkable. We can grow so used to discussing change and the way young people now engage with the world, and we need experiences like those of last week to get us to look up and take stock again.

Wikipedia has played such a part in bringing about these new kinds of engagement.

Jimmy Wales