Fact or fiction?

Many of us became accostomed to viral videos in our inbox or social networking streams. Yesterday I came across the following video and couldn’t help myself ask if it is not just a really clever viral marketing campaign for the sporting equipment.

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After a little more research the company denied any connections with the crazy folks at liquidmountaineering. Last year I went coastereing in Wales, so why not, maybe it is going to be the next cool outdoor activity?

Sociality of the web

I was unsure if the title ’4 geeks and a pot of money’ was going to be too critical for this post, but I cannot deny that I thought about it!

I came across this article in the NY Times and ended up with a number of odd thoughts:

1- how did 4 geeks (i guess it is better than nerds?) with an idea managed to pull together over $150.000?

2- this is the revenge of the common-man

3- knowledge is power (and knowing how to code is the new scholastica, relegating the real common man to the ignorant and powerless man of the middle age)

4- is it going to work? (or is it just another open source project destined for failure?)

Let’s go with order. The first thought is easily addressed: theirs is a ‘call to arms’ against Facebook and it is not surprising at all that they received such support. It was not long ago that Zuckenberg made changes to Facebook which resulted in a user revolution. Just to get a grasp of the conflict it is worth to look at his online biographies on the Wikipedia and Dickipedia .

Personally, I’m not sure about all this fuss regarding privacy and the tyrannical ruling of corporations. But this might be down to the fact that my use of social networks is not so extensive. I’m actually quite bad in keeping in touch with the phone already…

However, I also double checked what’s public of my profile after the latest changes with open graph (see what facebook publishes about you and your friends with this openGraph app.

The fact is that when I participate into any public activity my identity is exposed in one way or another and snapshots of me are going to be all over the place, with or without consent. Therefore what’s the problem? The fact that the information is becoming more and more aggregated I believe is a side effect of the internet. However my view is that the information is out there anyway.

Let’s use a simple example. In public I’m a teacher in a higher education institution, I’m a football referee and member of a number of clubs and organizations. Each holds an information silo about me which is semi-public (i.e. they might keep this private officially). Nevertheless, because of the type of activities, my face could also be published in some form which i might not have necessarily agreed when i became a member (i.e. a journalist taking a picture and publishing in a newspaper showing me in a cup final, or academic references in places which i didn’t think i would be associated with).

The concern, however goes deeper I believe: for those who are used to public scrutiny, there is a certain awarenss of a thin line between public and private and even though manifestation of identity varies in different domains I can’t avoid to think that people’s privacy is a facade for paranoia.

There is a voyerism these days that leads to a worldwide exposure similar to celebrities. Is this a crave for attention channeled to the world? My question is not only why would I want to share a picture in which I make a fool of myself during a night out, but why would I want to take the picture in the first place? Flipping the coin, why would I want to take a potentially embarassing snapshot of a friend who will most probably regret the moment anyway? Anyway, going off topic now… There is an argument for ease of use though and I like the idea of data portability (the Gigya login on this site tells you only half of the story?!)

The second thought is more optimistic: this shows that anyone with a good idea has a chance of succeding. This is a great ideal and I fully embrace it. Revisiting the last though, however, it is quite unlikely that without the exposure, this project would have had any chance of getting out of the cafe in which it was conceived.

The third thought is a reflection on the true value of the definition of common man. These kids are actually not so common. They are bright individuals in pursue of an idea, but they are equipped with knowledge to pursue the goal. It is actually foolish to think that anyone could do it. In fact, most people, no matter how you present web 2.0 stuff, are still mere users. For example, although it was fashionable a few years back to keep a blog count (see for example Duncan’s post on the blog herald), how many are actually active? My view is that things are very much dynamic, but a lot of people out there don’t blog, but read blogs, don’t tweet or bordcast themselves on youtube, yet they like that others do. A fundamental obstacle might be they don’t want to, they don’t need to, but also because they have no clue how to do it. So knowledge is power (yet again), and ignorant users who can’t even change their privacy setting in facebook, will most definitely not try to host their own node. What are the actual consequences of this model? how private can it really be? The distributed networks of napster, emule or bittorrent didn’t seem to be working, especially when your network provider might be responsible for your traffic (this seems how many countries are producing laws in this sense). So what’s the real difference of having this information stored on the facebook servers or on my home node?

Well, a lot of questions to be asked, but I am a supporter of open source projects, and although I have no clue if this is going to work, for now I will be following the Diaspora project and look forward to see how these guys are doing.

However, I share Jeff Sayre’s views about the usefulness of more streams and reccomend his detailed article on social-networking.

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On design, looks and statistics

Today I stumbled on the TED website. This is an incredibly interesting collections of short talks (20 minutes) given by well known ‘remarkable’ people. These are a couple of examples, but I must include a note of warning: you might be spending a lot of time on the site!

Ok, I could do without the singing, but the rest is quite amusing!

This other one, still quite amusing, but a very different story!

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Steve Jobs against the world?

As many others I came across mr. Jobs’ Thoughts on Flash, a 1700 word open letter to the community this month and, as many others can’t ignore the message.

I am a ‘late user’ of Apple products, and unlike many others I can’t see myself as a PC or Mac person, however I love certain things of my iMac and iPhone and can’t do without my (now over 5 years old P4) for other things.

Jobs’ comments are quite interesting, beyond the fact that Apple wants to retain a market control over apps. I think that they actually sum up a vision and given the success of his company we ought to take notice. Despite other savvy individuals like Joe Hewitt (commentary by MG Siegler) openly disagreed with the Apple CEO.

I personally buy his conclusion:

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.

I buy it for a number of other reasons too, which he fails to mention, probably because it would be perceived a direct marketing attack. For example, I’ve been around long enough to knwo about Adobe’s previous life, when it was Macromedia. I’ve seen changes in Flash scripting from a design aid to full blown programming/development environment. I’ve been doing stuff with Director since it was fighting with Authorware for a place in the industry. Although I commend the huge progress, and I was amazed by the recent presentation of Adobe CS5 products, I have to ackowledge that despite the efforts in the right direction, Adobe products remain a privilege for the few, with price tags well beyond the pockets of the average user. This is making training and development more inaccessible and I embrace Jobs’ comments on openness, which is reflected in their releases of SDKs and training material.

Neverthless Hewitt’s comment strike a chord: at the time I loved my Netscape browser, but must acknowledge the raise and quirkiness of Internet Explorer opening new horizons when embed multimedia into a page was not yet possible without plugins. Flash filled the niche wonderfully, so much, in fact that over 75% of video content out there these days is a flash video!

I also agree that the W3C is just too slow in promoting changes: it took nearly 15 years to get to HTML 5 standards! Browsers should promote innovation, but we must keep in mind that standards are important: we are at a stage in which Adobe had to provide developers with useful tools to compare differences in design between browsers! This is a great response to needs, but how did we get into this mess in the first place? Maybe Hewitt forgot the pain of single platform focus because it was a pain to do anything different! (and some other developers responding to his Twits seem to agree with this point).

Going back to Flash, my verdict is ‘great, but not affordable’. I received today an offer putting the price tag fo CS5 in the UK at 80% less than the retail price for academic purposes. Excited I went to look at the online store and found out that the price for the CS5 Masters Edition costs £560 and my hopes were shattered. The average pay in the UK for a full time job is about £1400 after tax. Students working part-time are likely to earn about half (£700). How did the Adobe people do marketing research?? An article on the BBC painted an interesting story about what an ‘average’ salary is compared to the big salaray in the UK.

Obviously there is no way that students can afford the suggested price tag and whilst it might benefit Adobe’s image to look education-friendly, it doesn’t actually change the reality on the ground, maintaining an elitist position in the development, which Jobs criticised (not enough?).

I have no doubt that more comments and wars of words will provide more food for thoughts in the next few weeks! In the meantime it should be noted that YouTube has already shifted to HTML 5 rather than Flash, well before Jobs’ letter… I stick with the open and free for now!

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Growth of android apps

I have been using an iphone for over a year now and I’m quite happy with it. At some point I thought that it would have been cool to investigate how to actually develop apps for the platform, but then ended up putting it aside because I didn’t have much time at hand. However I cannot avoid to notice that a year later the number of apps developed is still increasing at crazy rates, much like its main competitor, the android which is following up very quickly. The graph here is exemplifying.

Increase of apps for android

I am impressed, but not amused. Not too long ago I posted a video considering the funny side of apps. Surely there is a limit on what you can actually do with a mobile device which is actually useful?

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