De omnibus dubitandum
4 Apr 2013
Evgeny Morozov, the internet’s most renowned technology cynic, is not afraid to act as a polemical David to technology’s Goliaths. Not long after he thoroughly eviscerated the TED phenomenon he’s now set his sights on one of the internet’s biggest names: Tim O’Reilly.
In a lengthy article titled ‘The Meme Hustler’, Morozov takes O’Reilly to task for a range of buzzphrases and PR moves summarised as ‘meme-engineering‘. In doing so, he touches upon a number of highly intriguing ideas.
For example Morozov states that O’Reilly’s open source movement, having succeeded in supplanting Richard Stallman’s ‘free software’ concept as the de facto model for open software development, has paved the way for the current trend of closed source & closed platform appification of the internet:
“Now that apps might be displacing the browser, the openness once taken for granted is no more – a contingency that licenses and morals could have easily prevented. Openness as a happenstance of market conditions is a very different beast from openness as a guaranteed product of laws.”
He also exposes the Web 2.0 concept invented by O’Reilly for the hollow hypephrase that it is, pointing out that the technological trends that are viewed as a core aspect of Everything 2.0 predate the phrase – and the web itself – by some considerable margin:
“O’Reilly himself pioneered this 2.0-ification of public discourse, aggressively reinterpreting trends that had been happening for decades through the prism of Internet history – a move that presented all those trends as just a logical consequence of the Web 2.0 revolution. Take O’Reilly’s musings on “Enterprise 2.0.” What is it, exactly? Well, it’s the same old enterprise – for all we know, it might be making widgets – but now it has learned something from Google and Amazon and found a way to harness “collective intelligence.” For O’Reilly, Walmart is a quintessential Enterprise 2.0 company simply because it tracks what its customers are buying in real time.
That this is a rather standard practice—known under the boring title of “just-in-time delivery” — predating both Google and Amazon didn’t register with O’Reilly. In a Web 2.0 world, all those older concepts didn’t matter or even exist; everything was driven by the forces of open source and the Internet.”
I admit that after a brief period of skepticism I too was taken by the Web 2.0 hype, but like many I’ve also stopped using the phrase as I’ve become aware of its lack of substance.
Even social media, seen as the defining aspect of Web 2.0, is not a novel idea and has existed in primordial form since before the World Wide Web was a twinkle in Berners-Lee’s eyes.
“For Postman, one of the main tasks of language is to codify and preserve distinctions among different semantic environments. As he put it, “When language becomes undifferentiated, human situations disintegrate: Science becomes indistinguishable from religion, which becomes indistinguishable from commerce, which becomes indistinguishable from law, and so on. If each of them serves the same function, then none of them serves any function. When such a process is occurring, an appropriate word for it is pollution.” Some words—like “law”—are particularly susceptible to crazy talk, as they mean so many different things: from scientific “laws” to moral “laws” to “laws” of the market to administrative “laws,” the same word captures many different social relations. “Open,” “networks,” and “information” function much like “law” in our own Internet discourse today.”
I recommend you read Morozov’s 16,000 word piece – his no-punches-pulled criticisms are always worthwhile, even if you disagree – and if you feel thusly inclined you can continue with the abundant retorts being published online in defence of O’Reilly.
The man himself posted a brief, albeit polite, dismissal on his Google+ profile.
20 Mar 2012
This is not just the opinion of a bunch of online pundits. There is actual data out there that suggests we as a species are all about quick fixes. Even a fraction of a second’s delay can put us off an online consumption, as this infographic eloquently explains:
5 Jan 2012
I will unfollow you on Twitter without hesitation if you…:
1. Send me an automated DM after I follow you.
Seriously, cut it out.
2. Tweet a series of +K announcements.
If you care about your Klout score enough to tweet about it and what you’re doing with your +K’s, you’re not the type of person whose insights I value.
3. Use a URL shortener that hijacks the page with a piece of shit toolbar at the top.
Avoid craptastic URL shorteners with this lame ‘feature’. There’s plenty of shorteners that don’t do this, and you can always create your own.
4. Call yourself a ‘expert’, ‘guru’, or any of the other hypewords that indicate you’re just another lame-ass bandwagon jumper.
The latest buzz in SEO land is ‘inbound marketer’. Don’t use it – unless you’re OK with looking like a douche. If you’re so intent on expanding your SEO job title to be more inclusive there’s a perfectly good one already available: digital/internet/online marketer. By inventing new job titles you’re just showing yourself to be all about vacuous crap instead of actual substance.
5. Take yourself too fucking seriously.
You should never forget that your entire existence, in the grand scheme of things, is as close to meaningless as makes no difference.
23 Nov 2010
In December 1990 Tim Berners-Lee launched what would become the World Wide Web. That means that next month the web will be 20 years old.
For this 20th anniversary, Tim Berners-Lee has written an impassioned defence of the web in the December issue of Scientific American. He celebrates the web’s success but also warns of the dangers that are now threatening all that has made the web so successful:
“The Web as we know it, however, is being threatened in different ways. Some of its most successful inhabitants have begun to chip away at its principles. Large social-networking sites are walling off information posted by their users from the rest of the Web. Wireless Internet providers are being tempted to slow traffic to sites with which they have not made deals. Governments-totalitarian and democratic alike-are monitoring people’s online habits, endangering important human rights.”
He is, of course, entirely right. The web is being threatened. Facebook is essentially a walled garden – what goes on within is nearly invisible to the rest of the web. Apple’s iPads and iPhones give you a filtered, appified version of the web to play with, thus limiting your freedom. Governments block certain websites and ISPs throttle your bandwidth when you download stuff.
All of these things stand in direct opposition of what made the web so great: it’s an open, standardised, non-proprietary, free platform that is accessible to all.
If we allow the web to become compartmentalised, filtered, and censored, we will lose that which made it so special in the first place. We will, essentially, lose some of the freedom the web gave us in the first place.
“Why should you care? Because the Web is yours. It is a public resource on which you, your business, your community and your government depend. The Web is also vital to democracy, a communications channel that makes possible a continuous worldwide conversation. The Web is now more critical to free speech than any other medium. It brings principles established in the U.S. Constitution, the British Magna Carta and other important documents into the network age: freedom from being snooped on, filtered, censored and disconnected.”
What can you do to help save the web? Support net neutrality. Don’t buy products from companies that want to force-feed you an appified and filtered web experience. Delete your Facebook profile and start a personal blog instead. Donate to your local digital freedom organisation, such as EFF, the Open Rights Group, and Bits of Freedom.
Don’t let corporate and government interests take the web away from us. The web is worth fighting for.
14 Aug 2009
I go on a short holiday to visit my family and friends back in the motherland, and what happens? My Twitter account is suspended.
Why? No fucking clue. If I were to hazard a guess I’d say my account was flagged by some automated (and deeply flawed) spam-detection script and suspended without further human interference.
Over time I’ve come to rely on Twitter for a lot of things – keeping up to date in my field of employment, maintaining my network of professional and personal contacts, finding new viral content early, and generally keeping my finger on the pulse of the internet.
Now my account is suspended for no apparent reason. I’ve looked at Twitter’s rules and can’t find anything I’ve done that would incriminate my account. Twitter hasn’t provided a reason for this suspension either – the account has simply been closed. I didn’t receive any email. I had to find out about my account’s suspension from a friend who dropped me an email during my holiday.
Naturally I’ve contested this with Twitter’s support department, but to say they’re not very quick on the draw is a ridiculous understatement. Continental plates move faster than Twitter support. It’s been 6 days since I submitted a support ticket, and aside from an automated response I’ve received no word, despite two further requests from my side.
Even worse, Twitter’s standard text on account suspension states an account may be suspended for a minimum of 30 days pending ‘research’. This means I could be disconnected from a large part of my personal and professional information stream for over a month.
Creating a new account and starting from scratch isn’t really an option. Not only would I lose the valuable network I’ve built up over more than a year of Twitter usage, the rules also bluntly state that any account created to replace a suspended account faces permanent suspension.
It’s a good thing this has happened though. It has made me realise the amount of power a single social network can have over your day to day routines. This account suspension has made me feel disconnected from the internet as if I wasn’t online at all. I’m out of the loop. I’m not up to date on what’s happening any more. It’s somehow liberating and suffocating at the same time.
And it’s made me understand that Twitter, as a victim of its own popularity, is thoroughly incapable of handling its own success. Automated processes to detect and suspend spam accounts obviously don’t work, and Twitter seems reluctant to invest sufficient human resources to handle the emerging problems in an acceptable manner.
I suppose since Twitter is a free service I really shouldn’t complain. Yet most social media sites are free to use and that doesn’t stop us from revolting en masse when something goes wrong. Twitter however is unique in that despite its massive success has failed spectacularly in monetising its sudden ubiquity.
So I’ll give Twitter a bit of leeway. Another week, maybe. If they haven’t fixed my account by then, they can fuck off and I’ll start using FriendFeed instead.
UPDATE: After 17 days my account was re-activated. I never got an explanation for it, but I suspect it was because I was a little careless with my password and my account got taken over by a spammer during my holiday. Serves me right I suppose, but a little quick action from Twitter would’ve been appreciated.
16 Jul 2009
“As the Google Apps suite of programs finally graduated from its ‘beta’ status this week, Google also announced its plans to release an operating system on which to run them. Google Chrome, based on the company’s new browser, will invite us all to spend a lot less time, energy, and money on our computers—and in the process, it may force the technology industry to consider how to make money after people no longer require expensive machines and software to do their work.”
Of course what the Chrome OS will really do is transfer power over our office productivity from Microsoft to Google. We’re simply exchanging one corporate juggernaut for another. Rushkoff doesn’t see this as a bad thing though.
“And luckily for us (if not the company’s shareholders), Google tends to do things because they’re neat, and worry about business models later. While it may imagine its OS will provide new opportunities to sell advertising space, chances are Google is hoping to benefit purely from the increased Internet traffic catalyzed by an always-on, always-connected, and always-collaborating network of users.”
So basically we’ll have to rely on Google’s promise to do no evil.
I’m not so sure about the Chrome OS. At least with MS Windows and Office I can still manage, encrypt and and delete my own files. With Google’s OS and Apps, it all resides in the cloud. How do I know that when I delete something on Google Apps it’s really gone? I don’t. On the contrary, it’s likely my docs will continue to exist in some form or another out there on the interwebs.
And until the Chrome OS can run F.E.A.R. 2 with a frame rate of at least 40fps, I’m definitely not switching.
(Via Boing Boing)
29 Jun 2009
Apparently Facebook wants to challenge Google for the title of World Champion of Teh Interwebs. A new Wired magazine piece explains how Facebook thinks it can beat Google by using people, instead of algorithms, to fuel search:
Facebook encourages its 200 million members to use Microsoft’s search engine, which it installed on its homepage late last year as part of the deal struck between the two companies. At press time, it was also planning to launch Facebook Search, allowing users to scour one another’s feeds. Want to see what some anonymous schmuck thought about the Battlestar Galactica finale? Check out Google. Want to see what your friends had to say? Try Facebook Search. And it will not only be for searching within Facebook. Because Facebook friends post links to outside sites, you will be able to use it as a gateway to the Web—making it a direct threat to Google.
… In December, Facebook launched Connect, a network of more than 10,000 independent sites that lets users access their Facebook relationships without logging in to Facebook .com.
… In April, Facebook announced its Open Stream API, allowing developers to create mashups using Facebook’s constantly updated stream of user activity.
… Connect and Open Stream don’t just allow users to access their Facebook networks from anywhere online. They also help realize Facebook’s longtime vision of giving users a unique, Web-wide online profile.
But where Google tries to maintain an image of transparency and trustworthiness (“Don’t be evil“), Facebook is an obvious corporate enterprise with profit on its mind, even at the expense of its users:
In November 2007, Facebook launched Beacon, a ham-fisted attempt to inject advertising into News Feeds. Users felt violated; after a month of protest, Zuckerberg publicly apologized and effectively shut Beacon down. Then, in February 2009, Facebook quietly changed its terms of service, appearing to give itself perpetual ownership of anything posted on the site, even after members closed their accounts. Users complained so vociferously—millions joined Facebook groups and signed online petitions protesting the change—that the company was forced to backtrack. The event left many people fearful of the amount of personal information they were ceding to a private, profit-hungry enterprise.
I’m not sure Facebook packs the punch to knock out Google’s 800-pound Gorilla.