Tag Archives: internet

Supporting the Free and Open Web

This site will go dark tomorrow (18th January 2012) as part of the worldwide protest against the proposed US Protect IP Act (PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA – currently shelved).

These are misconceived and threatening to the free and open operation of the Internet – and they have far-reaching implications that go far beyond the shores of the United States (got to love asymmetric extradition…). They need to be stopped.

The year of consolidation

An interesting year so far in terms of online services ending or merging. I don’t have a good enough memory to mention all of those that have vanished this year, but there are a number of notable examples I thought I’d highlight, mainly because I’ve used them in the past. I last did a short review of some of these consolidations about two years ago.

So where to start… well, I just read the news that drop.io has been acquired by Facebook. It’s a file-sharing service which was incredibly easy to get set up. I wrote about drop.io a couple of years ago and at the time it was an exciting service with a lot of potential, a growing developer community, and some very cool plans like location-sensitive drops, content transcoding, and so on. I guess for me its utility was rapidly eclipsed once I discovered Dropbox which I now use to sync content between 2 laptops, a netbook, a home server and my iPhone, and which my Dogear Nation co-hosts and I use to share our content (not using it yet? try this referral link). It looks like drop.io is effectively closing on December 15th.

Two notable (to me) video services are going, too. [well, OK, as I write this, one has gone, and the other one is on its way]. Seesmic – the original video version, not the microblogging / update service – is closing. This was a service which wanted to pioneer a “video Twitter” conversation concept, and it was interesting to start off with – I mentioned it in my round-up of online video services back in February 2008. For me, I enjoyed the experiment, and there are a lot of ways in which video online has grown and become an effective way of delivering content, but text has remained my major conversational medium so Seesmic didn’t work out longer term. Of course it has spawned a successful business on the back of Twitter and other sites in the form of Seesmic Web and Desktop clients (and they acquired Ping.fm as well).

Another fun and fascinating video service has gone away – 12seconds.tv has just a page of video static greeting visitors now. I loved that service, although again I struggled to make longer term use of it… but I’m often to be seen sporting my 12seconds t-shirt :-)

In the cases of both Seesmic and 12seconds I’m left to wonder where to re-host my content… kudos to both sites for enabling me to get access to what would otherwise be lost. I suspect I will end up dumping them to YouTube since that isn’t likely to go away in a hurry. Of course the Seesmic videos, particularly the conversational ones, won’t make so much sense without the context.

Vox went the way of the dodo in 2010 as well. As an early adopter I tend to try out most services and I had a small but largely inactive blog over on Vox. I can’t say I’m too sad about its end as I’m perfectly comfortable with a blog at WordPress… it’s funny that Windows Live Spaces bloggers are being migrated to WordPress too – a sign of the times I think, as we’re seeing many of these earlier diverse networks collapse into the larger, more established networks (Vox to SixApart/Typepad, and whilst Windows Live Spaces is hardly supported by a non-established brand in Microsoft, but they are obviously refocussing just like everyone else).

The final service worth mentioning, I think, is xMarks. This is a service I only started using in the middle of the year, in an attempt to synchronise my browser content between the iPhone and other devices. The sudden announcement that it was heading for the buffers back in September led to an outpouring of despair and support from the user community, and as a result what was looking like a failure ended up being a near death experience – they initially took user donations, and have now negotiated a sale (so this is more consolidation, in a sense).

So what’s next? Well the microblogging wars seem to have died out, Twitter has won over e.g. former contenders like Jaiku and Pownce, although most online services appear to be integrating their own “updates” concept to continue to seem relevant. The big spaces where I’m personally seeing competition / overlap at the moment are in sites like Tumblr vs Posterous for general content sharing, and in online identity landing pages where about.me, chi.mp and flavors.me want my business. There are a number of fascinating new music-oriented services as well and I think some of those will start to overlap as they add features. The rest of the competition and fight for success seems to me to be in mobile apps and between runtimes on the handhelds. Just a personal point-in-time observation as 2010 starts to draw to a close.

The circle of life played out on the Internet – early innovation and excitement, a plateau of limited success leading to, possibly, monetisation (and/or an explosion of copycats), and a quiet death disappointing a small user community, or heady growth and unlimited stock prices. It’s an interesting space to continue to watch for us early adopters…

Daddy, where did the Internet come from?

I’m a big fan of podcasts. As a podcaster myself, you might expect me to say that. I know many people are not fans, and that’s OK – it’s a matter of taste, I think. For me, it’s convenient to be able to get information while I’m driving, or travelling via some other means or doing something else which makes reading difficult. I like some of the insight that comes out through deeper discussion of a topic, or even from the interaction of several people in a conversation, which you typically don’t get from a written post which is likely to be from one point of view. Audio can take more concentration than reading text, of course, and is difficult to scan, so I can understand objections – like I said, it’s a matter of taste. For me, podcasts need to be interesting, and ideally they need to be short (45 mins max) and easy to consume[1].

One particular podcast series which I came across recently (via epredator) is an excellent series of short pieces from the Open University – it’s called The Internet at 40 (iTunes link). It looks at the origins of the Internet and then covers a series of interviews with some of the pioneers like Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee as well as less well-known people like Donald Davies and Ray Tomlinson. It’s mostly delivered in nice bite-sized 5-15 minute chunks, with only the first piece lasting longer than 20 minutes, and even then, that’s a compelling listen.

Ever wanted to know how this thing called the Internet evolved? I found it fascinating to listen to Donald Davies talking about the genesis of TCP/IP – I’d always understood it at a general level, but hearing these guys discuss the original thinking behind some of the fundamental concepts was really cool. As both an historian and a techie, it was great to listen and see my two worlds collide. Recommended.

[1] the one exception I make to the 45-minute rule are the shows from TWiTMacBreak Weekly and net@night are regular subscriptions, and the latter in particular is great for making new online discoveries. If you have the stamina for something a little longer, the TWiT network has some great shows.

EU to restrict Internet access?

Blackout Europe

For the past week my avatar image has changed to show one of the logos of the Blackout Europe campaign.

“What’s that all about?”, many folks have asked me in the past few days. Well, as I understand it, this is the situation: the European Union is debating a set of measures called the Telecoms Package. This package is set up such that ISPs will in future be able to parcel out Internet capabilities to consumers in much the same way that satellite and cable TV companies do today – so, for example, there is a possibility that in future you will not pay a flat rate fee and have access to “everything” online, but you might have “starter package” with a certain range of sites plus, say, Skype access, and a “gaming package” which would give you access to various online games services, and a “pro package” which enabled all sites plus any services you wanted. Basically, they will be able to filter what you are doing based on site or protocol – those are just some examples I thought up rather than anything known to be in the works.

How does that differ from Internet packages in Europe now? Well, right now there’s no real differentiation between the services and sites that can be accessed, although there are often speed limits and download caps. This is potentially a fundamental change to the way in which access to the ‘net might be regulated and controlled.

It’s all a bit technical, but for more detail see this page on the Blackout Europe blog and look under section 6 for a set of annotated PDFs which discuss the measures in detail. You can also read the open letter already sent to the EU Parliament.

It’s a hypothetical situation, and as several folks have pointed out to me over the Twitter stream, it might be pretty difficult to actually implement. Other people have pointed out that the site itself “looks unprofessional”, which I suspect is more a factor of translation and time than anything else. I don’t think either of those two issues should really stop people from registering their discontent at these proposed changes. There are forms available on the site to enable people to contact MEPs. I’m late in blogging this, as the deadline is really in the next 24 hours – frankly, I’m surprised that the site, Facebook page and other social networks haven’t attracted more attention.

The press release about the Telecoms package makes it all sound very reassuring and good for the public, but as ever, the devil is in the detail.

Computerworld UK has published a great article on the issue today – here’s an extract:

Unfortunately, it’s an openness that is fairly subtle for non-technical people; above all, it’s not at all obvious to politicians, who seem to assume that apparently minor tweaks won’t change things much.

At least, that’s the most charitable explanation for the fact that European politicians are on the brink of passing legislation in the current Telecoms Package that will destroy a key part of that openness, by allowing telecoms companies to discriminate in the way that they handle IP packets according to their type.

(via @glynmoody)

One of the issues that still exists with the EU is the visibility of the institutions and processes at a national level. As a supranational organisation, it’s commonplace for people not to be aware of what is going on in the Parliament, even though in my experience, the EU’s web presence actually provides a great deal more transparency and insight into what is happening in Parliament than many national governments. People tend only to respond to EU legislation once it has been enacted and then re-enacted within their own national context. So, there are a whole bunch of things going on at an EU level that most people in European countries pay no attention to unless they are picked up by the media, and even then only if enough noise is made about the issues at hand.

It’s not too late to take a look at the site, and contact your MEP to let them know how you feel about freedom of access to the Internet – get the amendments that neutralise the offending clauses in “the Telecoms package” passed.

Update: another good article on the detail of the package, again via @glynmoody

Parental Guidance advised

200px-BBFC_PG_2002.pngAs per the UK Government’s somewhat bizarre suggestion that websites could be given ratings for content, I thought I’d pre-empt the idea.

Seriously, how can this even work? The minister seems to think that he can implement this through negotiation with the incoming US Administration? Hmm!

So, anyway, I’m awarding my site a PG rating. Hope that’s reasonable. You never know what I might say around here, after all…

Update: check the request for comments by Tom Watson MP – at least one MP is demonstrating a little tech-savvy.