Social Software

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


Not good enough

Black lab

8 years ago this month, I joined Flickr, but I don’t think I posted anything there until July that year. Was I, even then, hesitating and thinking, ‘is this good enough’?

… somehow creating an environment where people started to believe that their photos were not good enough for Flickr. I mean, really, how did we ever let that happen? I was speechless the first time a friend said that me and for the record: It was never part of the plan. How did we ever let people think that there is one measure of photography? How did we let people imagine that a medium which gave the world both Ansel Adams and Garry Winogrand (a photographer who died with a reported 10, 000 rolls of undeveloped film in his studio and who said that every time you take a picture you are hopefully risking failure) and everyone else in between was about any other than the joy and the discovery of the possible, foofy equipment and technique and measures of “good”-iness be damned?

Since then, the Instagram steamroller has come along and earned its success fair and square by making a thing that is genuinely fun and easy and immediate to use. There’s a lot about the larger project that I find problematic but you can not fault them their ability stripping away all the cruft at the intersection of photography and our Interphones. And all it took to get a whole crowd of people who I know and were intimidated (apparently) by Flickr (of all things) genuinely interested again in the act of photography was, let’s be honest here, a heavy application of 1970’s vaseline-porn filtering to their pictures.

Say what you want about those goofy filters (and I am the last person to call that particular kettle black) but they have been a startlingly good device for getting people to play at taking pictures again.

Aaron Straup Cope (via Paul)

A long time ago, I’d set out on a road that would have led me to being a much more confident photographer, but then necessity bit, along with a determination to be independent, and I sold my expensive Nikon camera bodies to help fund a change of degree course. That was the right thing for then, but it did cauterise part of me.

A little part of what’s been happening to me now, over the last few months, flows from Instagram. It’s got me playing and messing around, fooling with the filters, yes, but, above all, just noticing more — simultaneously loosening up and attending. And along with this goes a pleasure in the social flow — what my mother, 94, said today about Instagram when I showed it to her: ‘It’s so … conversational ’.

A few things written recently about Instagram have stuck in my mind. Dan Catt, My first Instagram Christmas, a nervous step away from Flickr:

… flow, connection, joining in of everyone’s experience, a bit like a pictorial version of twitter. … Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy Flickr. It makes me think about photography, inspires possible projects to play with, upload proper photos taken with my proper camera. But when there’s something happening (often involving the kids, a cat or a visual joke I know my friends will get) I find myself reaching for the iPhone and uploading to Instagram.

Dan Williams on this: ‘Why I never got into flickr: it’s for ‘proper’ photographers only and my friends weren’t on there.’

Tom Insam: ‘I’ve started to quite like the ambient pictures that it gives me’ (describing Carousel, which brings Instagram to the Mac — and have you tried his Flickrgram?). He goes on:

… these models — “shoeboxing” verses Instaagram-style “lifestreaming” — are two entirely different usage models for a photo sharing site. Flickr was built for the streaming case (it’s got a photostream as the main thing you see) but recently the shoeboxing is rather swamping the streaming, and the two models just can’t coexist in the same contacts list - the uploads of the shoeboxers will swamp the incoming streams of people who just want to follow streamers. Instagram, on the other hand, by utterly ignoring the needs of shoeboxers, has been able to build a much better streaming experience.

It reminds me of Twitter, where the same thing has happened.

(Shoeboxing vs lifestreaming … and for Instagram users, an archive-less future? Tom Insam, again: ‘Are they going to realise in a few years that they’ve not built up any meaningful history in this service? When they want a photo they remember taking, and can’t get it, will there be pain? Or will no-one care?’.)

Anyway, I’ve been playing and fooling around. Whilst wondering which dedicated camera I might buy next, I’ve got so much pleasure from using my iPhone, learning more about what it can do well and what it can’t, and why user mistakes and hardware shortcomings might nonetheless be portals to discovery and new ideas. And there are those filters. (And tilt-shift. Haven't used that much.)

Robot face

Another lost toy

Bike and snow

Why did Instagram catch on so? Paul did a great job of snagging some pieces about this (see, eg, Nate Bolt’s ‘Why Instragram is so Popular: Quality, Audience, & Constraints’) and I’m in his debt. Here’s Clive Thompson (Wired, December 2011):

In old analog cameras, many such filter “effects” were a chemical byproduct of the film, so photographers became expert at understanding the unique powers of each. Fujifilm’s Velvia film, with its high saturation and strong contrast, attracts photographers looking to capture the vibrancy of nature, Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom notes.

But casual photographers rarely developed this type of eye, because they just wanted to point and shoot. What Instagram is doing—along with the myriad other photo apps that have recently emerged—is giving newbies a way to develop deeper visual literacy.

The quirky and the quotidian, domestic and intimate … A sense of place, of the world we’re shaping and being made by … It’s been great fun (each little act one small creative counter-blow to the wearisomeness of routine), and over time it’s seemed like someone has been teaching me, my eye.

Duck!

Roller

Golf

Fish plate

Sunrise over St Paul’s

Blue screens of death, Chiswick Flyover, Hammersmith

Mar

Ugh

Marlborough

Boots, gloves, scarf …

The Measure of Love


History, our future

… no civilization has ever saved everything; acknowledging that fact does not obviate the need to try and save as much as we can. — A Working Library

Way back in 2006, I heard Chris talk, demoing Nokia’s mobile web server. I loved that and in my imagination it combined with the idea of owning your own data. Imagine carrying your own data with you, the canonical copy of everything digital that’s you, serving it from your mobile device. (There was a newspaper picture I saw, during the terrible years after Yugoslavia disintegrated, of a refugee family carrying their hard drives stashed around their van and in their bags and coats. They called themselves, I think — I’ve never been able to find the picture since — the first hi-tech refugees, carrying with them all their digital stuff.)

Owning your own data:

I’m building a solution, bit by bit. It’s certainly incomplete, and with rough edges … but iteratively improving as I find time and inspiration to work on it. I’d rather host my data and live with such awkwardness in the open than be a sharecropper on so many beautiful social content farms. — Tantek Çelik

I haven’t even the beginnings of the technical knowledge needed to follow that particular path (‘This is what I mean by “own your data”. Your site should be the source and hub for everything you post online. This doesn’t exist yet, it’s a forward looking vision, and I and others are hard at work building it. It’s the future of the indie web.’), though I’d dearly like to. If someone builds that, I’d buy it.

In 2008, at Open Tech, I heard Danny O’Brien talk, Living on the Edge (pdf), and read his posts on the same theme: 2008–07–16, and then Independence DayIntermediariesDeath by BoredomH-T-T-P, You Know MeReachability on the EdgeHow Many Nines Does One Person Need?. From Independence Day: ‘a trend you couldn’t help but notice in this latest overexcitement is migration of data from the edge to centralised servers. … I’m curious as to what happens when one tries to buck this trend. … how much of our life that we share with the Web 2.0 giants do we really *need* to share? How much of these services can and should we be running from the comfort of our own homes?’

The year before, Ben had written: ‘I’m living out of webapps at the moment: Google Docs, Gmail, Reader, Meebo and the like. It has been a revelation: these things work really well.’ (And see Matt Haughey, writing in April that year.) How long ago that seems now!

Discussion of the issues hasn’t ceased and, for the foreseeable future, how can it? Take John Naughton, writing earlier this year: ‘the components needed for a new, user-controlled architecture are beginning to fall into place. It’s still a bit geeky, but all it needs is a human-friendly front end’ (my italics). And last year’s speech by Eben Moglen (FreedomBox), Freedom in the Cloud. Or, Take Back the Tubes — A DIY Data Manifesto:

… the web will likely never be completely free of centralized services and Winer recognizes that. Most people will still choose convenience over freedom. Twitter’s user interface is simple, easy to use and works on half a dozen devices. Winer doesn’t believe everyone will want to be part of the distributed web, just the dedicated. But he does believe there are more people who would choose a DIY path if they realized it wasn’t that difficult.

For much of the last year, I’ve become preoccupied with archiving and preserving our data; ‘we are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not’ (William Gibson, 2001). mmmarilyn: ‘The one thing that differentiates human beings from all other creatures on Earth is the externalization of subjective memory—first through notches in trees, then through cave paintings, then through the written word and now, through databases of almost otherworldly storage and retrieval power.’  And then — YAHOO!LOCAUST. John Naughton again (from earlier still this year):

Think of the pleasure we get from old family photographs or the delight that comes from clearing out an attic and finding boxes of love letters, school reports, our first exercise books and old appointment diaries. The contemporary versions of these personal documents are mostly stored either on obsolescent PC hard drives or on the servers of internet companies …

And,

The European Union says its member states must do more to digitize Europe’s cultural heritage and not simply leave that work to the private sector. To do otherwise, suggests a recently commissioned report, could steer Europe away from a digital Renaissance and “into a digital dark age.” — ReadWriteWeb, 2011

I’m no programmer, though decades ago I learned to use Fortran, writing my own program for an A level Biology project, and played with BASIC. Now, I’m playing with a Mac Mini server and a Pegasus R6. I want to know that we can hand on certain things … music, audio, photos, text and, increasingly important, video. History for the future.

Last Christmas, I was hoping we’d see some development in 2011 around the Mac Mini, though I suspected the game plan was more likely to be centred on the ecosystem that individuals, families and groups weave around multiple Apple devices. There’s room for both and it seems that Apple thinks so, too. I use cloud services a great deal, and this won’t stop as I play with creating our own, centralised repository of music, audio, photos, text and videos. I want our own backup and personally maintained server and store, but I know the cloud offers us so much, too.

In What if Flickr fails?, Doc Searls looked forward to ‘self-hosted versions of Flickr, or the equivalent’ but also to a future where we ‘pay more for what’s now free’:

I want them, and every other silo out there, to realize that the pendulum has now swung full distance in the silo’d direction — and that it’s going to swing back in the direction of open and distributed everything. And there’s plenty of money to be made there too.

Yes, indeed. If Apple gets it right with iCloud, I’ll happily pay for secure and really useful services in the cloud that respect my privacy and offer a level of backup and reliability that, even with all my best efforts, I’ll probably not (always) achieve at home. But I’ll hold them to the highest standards and aim not to have to miss a beat if it comes to moving to another service. Dave Winer:

The important thing is that you and your ideas live outside the silo and are ported into it at your pleasure. You never have to worry about getting your stuff out of the silo because it never lived in there in the first place.

Things my students might enjoy reading as they, too, wrestle with these matters:


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.


Delicious II

Yahoo sunset 2010

That image from last December.

And after the “decision” to sunset, what? Rumour and speculation. And … a service that began to seem like a ghost town, as far as my network went.

So a little while ago (15 March), I moved over to Pinboard, decoupling, at last, the feeds for my Delicious account and this blog. Maybe Delicious will gain a good new owner and there’ll be life after Yahoo!. But I’m not banking on it.

Pinboard is reliable, fast and lithe. It’s incredibly easy to use and responsive to search. I’m using it far more than I had been Delicious — because it’s so quick to come back at me with the goods. But I miss the social, the enhanced chance of discovery. In Sticking With Delicious, Paul covered well the reasons why one might stay: ‘what’s always made Delicious most useful to me is its network pages in general, and mine in particular … [Pinboard] has a network, but you can only see your own, and friend finding is basically impossible’. (You can always ‘enter someone’s nick and see if they exist’ — The Post-Delicious World, of course, and there’s the independent Delicious → Pinboard username mapper.) Or, as Matt Haughey put it, ‘my Pinboard feed is personally useful, but socially uninteresting. And therein lies the rub … As a personal archive tool, it’s pretty impressive, as a shared space to find interesting bookmarks, it’s problematic. In the end, I’ll likely continue using Delicious to track bookmarks with Pinboard as a backup/archive tool that I’ll gladly continue to pay for’.

Well, time came to move on. And in truth, my network had mostly migrated to a number of other scattered sites, services and feeds.

(Previously, as they say, in Delicious (I), I picked out this by Paulsnagged via my Tumblr:

This fracturing of the network is a huge loss, no matter whether all the people you’re following wind up on the same service you do or otherwise.

Aye.)

Pinboard support is also fast — and personal (Maciej is patient, even with my stumblings). And I really like the way it aspires to archive not just pages but dependencies (find the post, ‘Bookmark Archives That Don’t’, dated 25 Nov, 2010: ‘in 2010 I don't believe it makes any sense to try to archive bookmarks if you’re not willing to resolve dependencies’). It’s sometimes proved better at this than Evernote.

Moving over, importing all my data from Delicious, was straightforward.

You can find me on Pinboard, or subscribe to my Pinboard feed


Safe-keeping

Every year when I teach our first years (Year 9) about ICT it’s often surprising what stands out as having changed. It’s life-as-we-once-knew-it, Jim, but now more or less of a piece with this digital stuff. We’ve made a new thing. Lots of new things.

But quick! Look after them! They’re vanishing even as we look.

Recent lessons have developed a focus around the web-and-culture, the web-as-culture. So, lesson 15 is all about the stuff James talked about at dConstruct last year: history, historiography, memory; archiving the internet; time, growth, loss, decay … hope. James’s talk is the focus.

Last Thursday, in the discussion about all that, I found other things suggested themselves and fell satisfyingly into place. I’ve added some of these to the lesson as a supplementary page: Lee’s deeply affecting talk at Reboot 9 about Kozarac; the Long Now’s Rosetta Project. But also things I haven’t put on that supplementary page: Yahoo! and Geocities (already in the original lesson 15) led on to Yahoo! and Delicious (I showed them Pinboard and we talked about backing up locally as well as in the cloud), and Yahoo! and Flickr (which Yahoo!’s CEO doesn’t use: ‘One of the most highly visible and trafficked Yahoo properties and you don’t even have an account there’).

That led on to a look at cloud-computing and the ways in which the Wikileaks story has made people readjust their view of providers (see my last post). It got me scrambling around to find this photo that I knew I’d squirrelled away on Tumblr a while back:

Jerry Yang at Congress

Gao Qin Sheng, mother of Shi Tao, a Chinese reporter sentenced to 10 years in prison for leaking state secrets, cries as Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang (left) testifies before a congressional committee hearing. (Photo: Reuters) — The Sydney Morning Herald (2007)

Wikileaks, Egypt … let’s not forget these lessons about cloud-computing and the responsibilities of global communications and cloud-computing providers.

And, as I find myself thinking more and more about archiving, memory and the digital, I really enjoyed Euan’s recent pieces: One small step (‘Goodness - a usenet search just stumbled upon my first ever experience, in 1995, of the power of the internet to make things easier’) and My first blog post. I hope Euan is happy if I re-blog the latter here (it’s so pertinent):

I knew I started blogging around this time of year in 2001 but thanks to a server crash in December 2001 I had no record of my first blog post. I tried The Wayback Machine but couldn’t remember the original url. I had tried various searches on Google and using Devon Agent but with no success but then I remembered that Ev Williams, who started Blogger and now Twitter, had made me a “Blog of Note” on the front page of Blogger in 2002. A search for that got me my old url and The Wayback Machine then came up with the goods.

So my first ever blog posts are preserved here and I began on the 3rd of March 2001. On day three I said:

“I started feeling a bit uneasy about this blog today. Who will ever read it and what will those who do think?”

Ten years later I am still wondering …..

URLs, permalinks, archives … preservation. It all matters so very much.

I’ve been pointing out to my Year 9 pupils the Facebook setting that lets you download your material to a local drive (thanks to Michael for pointing it out to me) — Account > Account settings > Download your information:

This tool lets you download a copy of your information, including your photos and videos, posts on your wall, all of your messages, your friend list and other content you have shared on your profile. Within this zip file, you will have access to your data in a simple, browseable manner. Learn More about downloading a copy of your information.

So many memories are held in Facebook — for now. Will these teenagers be grandparents with few photos of their teenage years to look back on, show and share? Back up, back up, back up.


Founder’s myopia

Just before Christmas, John Lanchester had a good essay in the LRB, Let us Pay, ‘on the future of the newspaper industry’. It dealt very well with the crippling expense and economics of the physical product and all that that means (something Horace Dediu also tackled late last year — ‘one wit remarked that a newspaper is nothing more than an instrument that permits the depreciation of a printing plant’).

Here’s something from Lanchester’s piece that I’d not heard before (it’s probably very well known):

In some ways, the story of text messaging is a parable for the way the net has evolved. SMS messaging was taken up by Nokia in Finland as a way of allowing engineers to communicate short, factual messages about where they were, what they were doing and how long it would take. Nokia then made the service available on their phones, since, well, there it was, so you might as well let the punters have a go. They were amazed to see the spike in data traffic which suddenly showed up. The reason: Finnish teenagers were using SMS to organise their social lives. From there, texting hasn’t looked back. Nobody decided what the purpose of SMS would be, it just evolved.

(He goes on: ‘It would be hard to deny that texting is a new thing; also hard to argue that it has fundamentally changed the world. I’d say that’s roughly where we are with the journalistic uses of the new media. Their democratising and decentralising effects have barely begun, and aren’t going to go away.’ Both he and Dediu — ‘the medium needs its Orson Welles’ — look ahead to the Murdoch online-only paper, the Daily.)

And here’s Janet Abbate on email (Inventing the Internet, pp 106–111):

Email (initially called “net notes” or simply “mail”) made an inconspicuous entry onto the ARPANET scene. Since many time sharing systems provided ways for users to send messages to others on the same computer, personal electronic mail was already a familiar concept to many ARPANET users. By mid 1971 … several ARPANET sites had begun experimenting with ideas for simple programs that would transfer a message from one computer to another and place it in a designated “mailbox” file. … Email quickly became the network’s most popular and influential service, surpassing all expectations. … From ARPA email began to spread to the rest of the military, and by 1974 “hundreds” of military groups were using the ARPANET for email …

The popularity of email was not foreseen by the ARPANET’s planners. Roberts had not included electronic email in the original blueprint for the network. In fact, in 1967 he had called the ability to send messages between users “not an important motivation for a network of scientific computers” … Yet the idea of electronic mail was not new. MIT’s CTSS computer had had a message feature as early as 1965, and mail programs were common in the time sharing computers that followed …

Why then was the popularity of email such a surprise? … The rationale for building the network had focused on providing access to computers rather than to people. … The paradigm of resource sharing may have blinded the ARPANET community to other potential uses of the network. … Email and mailing lists were crucial to creating and maintaining a feeling of community among ARPANET users. … Even more important, mailing lists allowed a virtual community to take on an identity that was more than the sum of the individuals who made it up … [providing] a way for people to “meet” and interact on the basis of shared interests, rather than relying on physical proximity …

In the process of using the network, the ARPANET community developed a new conception of what networking meant. … the network planners … did not anticipate that people would turn out to be the network’s most valued resources. Network users challenged the initial assumptions, voting with their packets by sending a huge volume of electronic mail but making relatively little use of remote hardware and software. Through grassroots innovations and thousands of individual choices, the old idea of resource sharing that had propelled the ARPANET project forward was gradually replaced by the idea of the network as a means for bringing people together. Email laid the groundwork for creating virtual communities through the network. Increasingly, people within and outside the ARPA community would come to see the ARPANET not as a computing system but rather as a communications system. Succeeding generations of networks inspired by ARPANET would be designed from the start to act as communications media. By embracing email, ARPANET users gave the network a new purpose and initiated a significant change in the theory and practice of networking.

We teach about the unexpected rise of email in our first year ICT course — adding in, for good measure, John Vittal’s 1975 addition of Reply and Forward. We also point out that no-one foresaw the appeal of SMS, but it’s lovely to be able to include that story from Finland.

And here’s something else in the same vein (again centring on our love of communication) that makes a point about invention. I’m reading Tim Wu’s The Master Switch, and early on there’s this about the early American rural telephone companies (chapter 3):

The Independents, rooted in the farms and small towns of the West, were innovators, but of a conceptual kind, not the technical kind à la Alexander Bell. They saw a different world, in which the telephone was made cheaper and more common, a tool of mass communications, and an aid in daily life. They intuited that the telephone’s paramount value was not as a better version of the telegraph or a more efficient means of commerce, but as the first social technology. As one farmer captured it in 1904, ‘With a telephone in the house, comes a new companionship, new life, new possibilities, new relationships, and attachments for the old farm by both old and young.’

Typically, the rural telephone systems were giant party lines, allowing a whole community to chat with or listen to one another. Obviously there was no privacy, but there were benefits to communal telephony other than secure person-to-person communications. Farmers would use the telephone lines to carry their own musical performances. …

And so, while the Bell Company may have invented the telephone, it clearly didn’t perceive the full spectrum of its uses. This is such a common affliction that we might name it “founder’s myopia”. Again and again in the development of technology, full appreciation of an invention’s potential importance falls to others—not necessarily technical geniuses themsleves—who develop it in ways that the inventor never dreamed of. The phenomenon is hardly mystical: the inventor, after all, is but one person, with his own blind spots, while there are millions, if not billions, of others with eyes to see new uses that had been right under the inventor’s nose. … it was simple farmers in the early 1900s who pioneered the  use of the phone line for broadcasting long before the rise of radio broadcasting in the 1920s.


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)


Datadecs

One of the things which brightened up our Christmas holiday was the arrival on 23 December of these datadecs:

Datadecs

(After years of large trees both real and, recently and unappealingly, fake, we were given this wee-but-living tree. As one of our sons said, ‘Not so much minimalist as miniature’. Give it time.)

Datadecs

Datadecs

A lovely present: many thanks to Russell, Tom and Ben at RIG, and to Andy — who writes,

For Christmas 2009 the Really Interesting Group wanted to create a a gift comprising a series of 4 unique decorations based on each recipient’s use of the Flickr, Dopplr, Last.fm and Twitter. Having used a couple of the software APIs they were thinking about using (flickr and dopplr) and with experience of rapid prototyping we worked together to turn the data into something physical. … Three of the four Datadecs are laser cut and one is rapid formed. For the laser cutting I developed a series of Processing sketches to generate cutting paths and the snowmen were generated using RhinoScript.

As Phil summarises it:

The snowman’s head size represents the number of followers I have on Twitter. The cloud and its rain represent my year’s trips on Dopplr. The blue shape shows the apertures of my photos on Flickr. And the red shape is the amount of music I played during the year, got from Last.fm.

More about these datadecs and their making in Andy’s post, and see, too, RIG’s page about them, Twitter mentions and Flickr tagged photos.

Very struck by these. Julian Bleecker: ‘this association between things materialized and things quantified is really significant’.

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Google

When I was at the Saïd Business School in September for the Oxford Social Media Convention 2009, I heard Matthew Hindman (author of The Myth of Digital Democracy) say that Google has spent more in the past six years on R&D than was spent on the entire Manhattan Project (figures adjusted for inflation: ‘constant 2002 dollars’).

In my opening remarks I strenuously disagreed with other presenters’ claims that the Internet provides for “low barriers to entry.” Different barriers to entry? Sure. Low barriers in 1995? Of course. But low barriers today? Not in any of the mature part of the Web, and certainly not in the niches that I study.

I thought of this again whilst reading John Naughton’s column on Sunday morning. If you have seven minutes to spare, watch this first:

John Naughton summarises:

The sting in the Android tail was also unveiled this week: Google has launched GPS navigation for the new handsets. It does everything that TomTom, Garmin et al do, and a lot more besides. For example, you can talk to it: tell it to “navigate to the museum with the King Tut exhibition” and it will do an instant Google search and present you with a list of options. Its maps are continually updated because they’re not held on the phone. It’ll give you live traffic data for your route. And when you get close to your destination it switches to Street View to show what it looks like. And it’s free.

That same day, in my Delicious network stream, Bill Gurley’s (now much lauded) post, Google Redefines Disruption: The “Less Than Free” Business Model, popped up, in which he reflects on Google’s progress from licensing data owned by the mapping duopoly of Tele Atlas and NavTeq to today’s state of independence:

… as a venture capitalist it is imperative to understand ways in which a smaller private company can gain the upper hand on a large incumbent. One of the most successful ways to do this is to change the rules of the game in such a way that the incumbent would need to abandon or destroy its core business in order to lay chase to your strategy. … when I read this week that Google was including free turn-by-turn navigation directions with each and every Android mobile OS, I had an immediate feeling that I was witnessing a disruptive play of a magnitude heretofore unseen. … Rumors abound about just how many cars Google has on the roads building it own turn-by-turn mapping data as well as its unique “Google Streetview” database. Whatever it is, it must be huge. This October 13th, just over one year after dropping NavTeq, the other shoe dropped as well. Google disconnected from Tele Atlas and began to offer maps that were free and clear of either license. These maps are based on a combination of their own data as well as freely available data. Two weeks after this, Google announces free turn-by-turn directions for all Android phones. … To understand just how disruptive this is to the GPS data market, you must first understand that “turn-by-turn” data was the lynchpin that held the duopoly together. … Google’s free navigation feature announcement dealt a crushing blow to the GPS stocks. Garmin fell 16%. TomTom fell 21%. Imagine trying to maintain high royalty rates against this strategic move by Google.

There’s much more to read there about the implications of Google’s move. Much, much more. Including the irresistible new ecosystem that will open up:

Google is apt to believe that the geographic taxonomy is a wonderful skeleton for a geo-based ad network. If your maps are distributed everywhere on the Internet and in every mobile device, you control that framework. Cash starved startups, building interesting and innovative mobile apps, will undoubtedly build on Google’s map API. It’s rich, it is easy to use, and quite frankly the price is right. In the future, if you want to advertise your local business to people with an interest in your local market, chances are you will look to Google for that access.

(Yesterday, talking to some business savvy students, I was struck by how much they already knew about this and how they lapped up Bill Gurley’s article for its navigation of the very far reaching implications of Google’s move. That breath on the nape of your neck? The next generation, coming up fast.)

Gizmodo reflected on this in Google and the Deadly Power of Data:

This is not an attack of Google’s business practices, but an explanation of the sort of destructive innovation that has made them so huge so fast. (It’s also a warning to consider carefully any entities that gets this strong, especially if you plan on going into business with one.) Though predecessors like Microsoft experienced similar explosive growth, and grew a similar sudden global dependence, we’ve never seen the likes of Google. The GPS business isn’t the only one that will be consumed by its mighty maw before it’s had its run.

We’ve already seen the devaluation of the office apps that make Microsoft rich; we’ve already seen how Google’s experiences with Apple and others helped it create telecommunications platforms (both mobile with Android and completely virtual with Google Voice) that threaten its former partners’ existence; we’ve already seen how Google converts photos, videos, news wire stories and other former commodities into freebies by smashing the false notion of scarcity that “service” providers had literally banked on.

Meanwhile, pundits remain fascinated by the economics of YouTube and the same edition of the Observer, in an article about Google’s ContentID system, repeated the line that, ‘Three years after Google bought the site for $1.65bn, it has yet to turn a profit and there are concerns the division is devouring the internet group’s cash reserves’. Last month, Eric Schmidt said, ‘We’re starting to make signifigant money off of Youtube’. But it was a recent Wired piece that held my attention:

… a new report from Arbor Networks suggests that Google’s traffic is approaching 10 percent of the net’s traffic, and that it’s got so much fiber optic cable, it is simply trading traffic, with no payment involved, with the net’s largest ISPs.

“I think Google’s transit costs are close to zero,” said Craig Labovitz, the chief scientist for Arbor Networks and a longtime internet researcher. Arbor Networks, which sells network monitoring equipment used by about 70 percent of the net’s ISPs, likely knows more about the net’s ebbs and flows than anyone outside of the National Security Agency.

And the extraordinary fact that a website serving nearly 100 billion videos a year has no bandwidth bill means the net isn’t the network it used to be.

(According to Chad Hurley, CEO and Co-founder of YouTube, YouTube now serves ‘well over a billion views a day’.)

More here on the Internet Observatory Report from Arbor Networks (I’d really like to get hold of the report itself and scrutinise the details), from whence this:

Evolution of the Internet Core: Over the last five years, Internet traffic has migrated away from the traditional Internet core of 10 to 12 Tier-1 international transit providers. Today, the majority of Internet traffic by volume flows directly between large content providers, datacenter / CDNs and consumer networks. Consequently, most Tier-1 networks have evolved their business models away from IP wholesale transit to focus on broader cloud / enterprise services, content hosting and VPNs.

Rise of the ‘Hyper Giants’: Five years ago, Internet traffic was proportionally distributed across tens of thousands of enterprise managed web sites and servers around the world. Today, most content has increasingly migrated to a small number of very large hosting, cloud and content providers. Out of the 40,000 routed end sites in the Internet, 30 large companies – “hyper giants” like Limelight, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and YouTube – now generate and consume a disproportionate 30% of all Internet traffic.

About the Wired piece, Ian commented on Delicious, ‘Another way to put it: Unless you own massive infrastructure, you will *never* be able to compete with Google. Welcome to the new net, indeed. Meet the new boss…’. The field certainly ain’t level.

All of which made me do what I’d a while ago grown bored of doing and once more note down something here (as a marker for myself) about … Google. Creative destruction.

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