Posts filed under ‘Web’

On SOPA, PIPA, and Copyright Maximalism: How We Must Respond

Joel Spolsky – Google+ – Two things about SOPA/PIPA and then I’ll shut up :) (1) …

(1) The internet seems to ignore legislation until somebody tries to take something away from us… then we carefully defend that one thing and never counter-attack. Then the other side says, “OK, compromise,” and gets half of what they want. That’s not the way to win… that’s the way to see a steady and continuous erosion of rights online.

The solution is to start lobbying for our own laws. It’s time to go on the offensive if we want to preserve what we’ve got. Let’s force the RIAA and MPAA to use up all their political clout just protecting what they have. Here are some ideas we should be pushing for:

  • Elimination of software patents
  • Legal fees paid by the loser in patent cases; non-practicing entities must post bond before they can file fishing expedition lawsuits
  • Roll back length of copyright protection to the minimum necessary “to promote the useful arts.” Maybe 10 years?
  • Create a legal doctrine that merely linking is protected free speech
  • And ponies. We want ponies. We don’t have to get all this stuff. We merely have to tie them up fighting it, and re-center the “compromise” position.

Mr Spolsky is expressing thoughts that all of us should be thinking. In fact, I’ve partially expressed some related concepts before. Only, now that they’ve been expressed, we need to discuss them, modify them as needed, and then implement them. I encourage you to go to his post on GPlus and read the whole thing.

Sunday, 2012-January-22 at 20:18 3 comments

Quick Thoughts On Diaspora

Important: Diaspora is still very early in its development process. Everything I mention could change at any time. I’d encourage you to try it out, but don’t expect a lot at this time.

A quick background. Last Summer, a team of college students (recent grads?) kicked off a project to build a federated social networking site similar to Facebook or MySpace. At the time, there was a lot of grumbling about Facebook’s odious anti-privacy policies, so the group was able to raise a little money to help them get started.

There is an official alpha (that means very early-stage, as in it may eat your data or leak it to the world; links and URLs may change, page layouts and functionality may change, and so on) at http://joindiaspora.com/. I received an invitation last night, so I signed up.

First impression: If you’ve used Facebook, you know that it offers a grouping feature, to help you direct your posts to the appropriate "friends" and away from inappropriate ones. This is to keep your boss from seeing photos of you puking after a night of drinking. But Facebook’s feature is difficult to use, so much that no one I know uses it, and many people aren’t even aware of it. Diaspora’s “aspects” grouping feature is right up front and easy to use. It quite naturally invites you to partition your "friends" into such groups, while making it absolutely simple to send a post to all your aspects.

Federation and control of one’s own data are issues of major importance today. I recently found some of my former home addresses (and a couple where I’ve never been… Atlanta, for example) showed up in a simple web search. Since I’ve been online (1997), I’ve never posted that information anywhere. I’ve been careful not to make said information available to anyone without a legitimate need. But when I think about it, plenty of information is available on sites like Facebook.

Now, that does not make Facebook evil. What it does mean is that you and I need to be even more careful about what information we allow sites like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Bebo, Brightkite, Orkut, and LinkedIn to obtain and to store. Facebook’s “real names policy” is, of course, the most dangerous thing on the Internet today, when you couple it with making your hometown, educational information, and employment information absolutely public with no way to protect it. But LinkedIn and sites like Monster.com also have dangerous amounts of information about you and exist to spread that information far and wide (with some potential benefit to you, I must say). By the way, I agree with many of Phil Windley‘s ideas about moving toward a “personal data store,” which sites and vendors would access with your express permission in order to obtain identity and other personal information, including the idea of controls on said data that prevents a vendor from disseminating it without your knowledge and consent. I intend to write more about identity management and the need for our legal system to institute a control framework that returns control of our information to ourselves.

My impression is that Diaspora is being more careful about collection and dissemination of personal information. For example, if you search for my real name online, there are at least two people who show up. Diaspora asked for (but did not require) that name. Facebook won’t sign you up without that name. (Actually, my online name "lnxwalt" is, so far, a more unique identifier than my real name or even my SSN.) Diaspora allowed me to sign up under the name I use for online activities, which is a major plus.

But I must say, if they are serious about federation, they need to prioritize work to connect with sites using the OStatus protocol (primarily Identica and other StatusNet sites right now, but that may also enable read-only connection with Google Buzz) as well as the long-proven XMPP. I’d also suggest talking with the guys at Buddycloud about ways to interoperate with them. (Not that I’m saying the Buddycloud article is right. That’s a lot of talk for a group that appears not to have a desktop-compatible interface.) They need to be explicit about plugin APIs, client APIs, and protocol suites, even if they have to say "This may change in the future," because that’s how they can get people to develop add-ons that make the product better.

Talk to the guys at Elgg about ways to enable Diaspora and Elgg sites to interoperate. I realize you’re not PHP-focused, but if you make it easy for others to help and contribute, you may be surprised at what comes up.

It is important to understand that federation may require more than just your company / ideas to make happen. Go ahead and see about working with others who are also doing federated social networking.

I would like to encourage the Diaspora devs to think about these things. Also: usernames—we already have a webfinger to specify how usernames should look in a federated social network; don’t ignore others' hard-earned knowledge. Restructure usernames to be @username@host, and use that to enable pointing messages to different users (and direct messaging, too).

All in all, I’m impressed with Diaspora. My suggestions above are made in the hope of making it even better. If you’re not yet part of a Diaspora pod and you’re interested in helping the developers find bugs and needed functionality, take a look at this list of Diaspora pods.

Monday, 2010-December-13 at 20:27 1 comment

Is There Anyone Left At YHOO With A Brain?

2010-03-06T00:00 UTC:

I get a call from someone about Yahoo blocking them from sending e-mail. I say “don’t touch anything. I’ll be right there.

I arrive a few minutes later to see the situation. Yahoo had allowed a fake PayPal message to get through. The user was forwarding it to me with a question: “Do I have a PayPal account? Do I need to be concerned about this?” Yahoo recognized that this was phishing, and prevented the user from sending it.

I’m so mad that you can’t come near me unless you’re prepared to hear the F-word. If you could tell it was a phishing attempt, why in the world didn’t Y! prevent it from reaching the user’s inbox? Do we need any reminder that regular users depend upon us who are technical to act as their shields against these online scumbags? What kind of system says “phishing attempts are okay, as long as their incoming instead of outgoing”?

Here are some recent discussions and events, in case no one at YHOO has been watching:

  • First of all, ReadWriteWeb published an article about a login alliance between Facebook and AOL. The article’s comments were overrun with Facebook users trying to log in. The problem? They didn’t enter the Facebook URL into the address bar at the top of their browsers. Instead, they entered “facebook login” into the search engine on their browsers’ home page and then clicked the top link. It had always worked before, but for a short time, the RWW article was the top link for “facebook login”, and so their ingrained habit didn’t work. So they used their Facebook login credentials to ask why the page looked so different and why they could not log in to Facebook.
  • Comments about that incident filled the tech blogs for a few days afterward.
  • Related commentary continues to this day. I pointed out, for example, that sites where users log in should never present a link that replaces the page with an off-site one, unless it first uses a page that says, “you are leaving our site and will be logged out; is this okay?” Without that confirmation page, the site should always present logged in users links that open in new tabs. Simon Willison also posted about the lack of understanding URLs recently.
  • “Are you online?” I was asked this recently by a family member as I sat at my computer. Well, yes, I’m online. We are connected to the Internet whenever we turn a computer on (except between 1 AM and 7 AM Pacific, when the router is programmed to deny access to everyone). Perhaps inside of Yahoo, they don’t have any non-technical users to ask that question. Come work where I work for a week. You’ll soon recognize that the apparent meaning of “online” to non-technical users is “actively using a Web browser”. (And it is important to point out that dial-up users know when they are online, because no one can use the telephone. Pervasive connectivity isn’t quite comprehended by the general public. That’s why they buy iPhones, with their connection to the very spotty AT&T network, instead of buying the Pre or the Pre Plus, with its much more reliable Sprint and Verizon networks. I would have smashed the phone to bits if I had a phone that was an Internet device, but it was on a network where Internet connectivity was unreliable.)

I have long had a lot of love and respect for “Y!”, even after I worked downstairs from one of their locations and experienced how rudely their staff treats people who work for other employers. Over the past year or two, I really believe that anyone with any sense in that company is getting their resumes into as many hands as possible, trying to get out before the whole thing implodes.

Y!, again, I love you, but you had better straighten up and fly right. Remember that people can get good search results from a number of places (Google [also known as “bigG”], Bing, DuckDuckGo, Cuil, Wolfram Alpha, etc). They can get webmail and the other services you offer from other providers as well. Simple things like protecting your users from phishers can go a long way toward making sure your company stays around. Incidentally, I recently found that DuckDuckGo doesn’t just link UPS’ tracking page when you enter a tracking number–they redirect your browser to that page–I was impressed at the way they saved me a step.

IMPORTANT: This is my personal opinion, and not that of any other person, organization, employer, or government agency. As an opinion, it is subject to change. In particular, being a fan of bigG and Y!, I tend to expect more of them, but once everything is all better, it really is all better. If you’re a lawyer: I don’t have any money, so go bother someone else.

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Saturday, 2010-March-06 at 01:37 1 comment

Drupal CMS Can Now Import ODF Docs

There is a Drupal project to enable importing ODF files into a Web site. It is still in its early stages, but the plan is to develop this further.

ODF Import allows a user to import ODF files into drupal nodes. Currently the module can import content from ODT files only. No style information is imported in current release.
Future releases will support other ODF formats as well as importing of styles from an ODF document.

My congratulations to Drupal for joining the future, where our documents will be ours, and not subject to the whims of some large, out-of-area corporation (LOOAC).

H/T: freemjd


IceRocket tags:

Monday, 2009-December-28 at 02:50 1 comment

Component for Joomla! 1.0 Web CMS Helps Sites Index ODF Files

Joomla add-ons – ODT Indexer

The ODT indexer component will extend the Joomla search function with the ability to search through the content of indexed .odt files. One of the best known programs that will allow you to open and edit .odt files is OpenOffice.org.

You can add the path to your document in the backend, the component will read and index your file. The mambot that comes with this component will search through the indexed content for matches.

The component does not support the current version 1.5 of Joomla!. It is still helpful to those running the older version of Joomla! on their sites, but one should be aware that there has been no update since 2006. There is no indication on Joomla-Addons.org whether the component also supports Mambo, the project that Joomla! branched off from.

I am looking into addons for Joomla! 1.5+, Mambo 4.6+, Drupal 6+, and similar content management systems. What I’d like to see is tools that accept content-postings as ODF files, tools that will export content articles as exported .odt, .ods, and .odp files, and tools that index and search ODF files stored on a site. I will post anything find anything out right here on Opportunity Knocks.

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Tuesday, 2009-February-24 at 21:28 2 comments

Overloaded With Gimme Gimme

Apparently, Jason Calcanis and Robert Scoble are discussing the value of Facebook and similar sites.

I don’t really use the sites, so maybe I’m out of the loop here.  If you are busy with work, the occasional college class, family, friends (real friends that you actually speak with every now and then), your time for relational sites is going to be strictly limited.  Robert Scoble’s business depends upon him being connected to the pulse of interesting ventures that are launching or growing.  If he misses the early stages and has to compete with MSM journalists for interviews, he loses.  In other words, when Scoble is on Facebook or LinkedIn, he’s actually helping himself do what he gets paid to do.

Another big market for social media is full-time students.  But even there, it is probably self-limiting.  The student who has major loans and works sixty hours a week at Gree-C Burger to get through school is probably not going to have a lot of time for fiddling with lists of so-called friends who want to fill his messaging area with repetitive cut & pastes and quiz links (my impression of the few MySpace pages I’ve seen).  In that sense, these networks appeal mostly to wealthier students (and high school students) who do not have to work and do not have much else to do.

This is similar to the current situation with e-mail.  We all have one or more acquaintances that fills our inboxes with forwarded messages.  Sometimes they are calls to action, sometimes hoaxes, sometimes cute images or flash sites, sometimes offensive slurs, and even occasionally a “Why don’t you ever respond to my messages” message.  Then we have those <expletive deleted> that insist on sending out piles of get-rich-quick, pharmaceutical, and other scam messages (including the ones filled with malware infectors).  It has reached the point where you dare not publicly publish your e-mail address without serious filtering in place.

My current employment does not have anything to do with connecting to the pulse of interesting new or growing ventures in Silicon Valley / Route 128 / Research Triangle.  Nor has any of my previous employment.  My college years were mostly filled with full-time and overtime work, rushing from class to work or from work to class.  When I say I work too much and always have, I really mean it.  (Not that I wouldn’t mind doing something where I was exposed to more new technologies.)

If it weren’t for Pidgin and Kopete, I would not use IMs (and even then, it isn’t frequent).  If it weren’t for Akismet, I wouldn’t have comments.  I have another blog that has had fewer than 700 views, but nearly 3,000 spam comments and trackbacks blocked by Akismet.  Even moderating comments and trackbacks gets to be painful at that rate.

When a relative sent me an invitation to Friendster a few years ago, I turned it down.  I had enough trouble trying to keep up with e-mails from people I didn’t know that wanted something from me.  I didn’t want to join a service whose main purpose was to enable people to bug people they did not know with requests to do something for them.

On the other hand, a service that enables some kind of community and continued communication with people that I actually know (or at least know we have something in common) might be useful, if spam and contact management tasks were not overwhelming.  I’d have to know that my data is my data, and be able to access much of that data from outside the service, including with competing services.  I want the service to be part of the general Internet, not to lock me inside of their own little world.

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Sunday, 2007-July-29 at 06:49 2 comments

Coded URLs Patented!

Just when I thought the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office might be turning around, they go and surprise me with this one.  Patent number 7,197,478 uses coded URLs to automate single-click reordering.

I know what you are thinking.  You are thinking about all of your e-mail newsletter subscriptions that have user IDs embedded so that they can personalize the newsletter to your habits and preferences and track whether you actually read what they send you.  But that does not count, because it doesn’t insert your credit card into an order form.

Initial ordering information including payment by credit card, PayPal or other payment mechanism, delivery or pickup information and product data is encapsulated in a coded URL. An icon representing the order can be inserted on the desktop, as a favorite browser setting or on the quick launch bar. After that, one click submits any repeat order.

Now isn't that innovative?  Please join me in standing and saluting QuikOrder for their bright engineering staff, who must have spent many months working around the clock to create and perfect this concept.  Like you, I can feel America becoming more prosperous at this very moment.  Surely, with inventive companies like this at the forefront of American business, we will soon see foreign companies volunteering to become subsidiaries to our great and innovative elite companies.  We beam with pride as we contemplate the possibilities.

Sunday, 2007-May-20 at 16:14

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