After Internet.org Backlash, Facebook Opens Portal To Court More Operators

Techcrunch article by Jon Russell on how Facebook is pretending (very badly, like one unpracticed in the art) to be nice by opening up its Internet.org branch to a few more developers.

In case you are not familiar with this bit of exploitation of the poor, the claimed ‘public service’ aspect of Internet.org is that it gets people online who would otherwise be unable to afford it, specifically in the third world, by making access to (some) online services free of data charges. I’d have to agree, that sounds nice enough, and that’s certainly the spin Zuckerberg puts on it. The evil side of it is that it is essentially a portal to Facebook and a few hand-filtered other sites, not the Internet as we know it, it is immensely destructive to net neutrality, and is nothing more than a bare-faced attempt to make money out of people that have too little of it, and to hook them into Facebook’s all-consuming centralized people farm. Zuckerberg is allegedly proud of the fact that around half of the millions that have signed up thus far have moved on to paid plans that actually do allow access to the Internet – likely the reason for the (otherwise odd) inclusion of Google Search in the original small lineup of options, inasmuch as non-approved sites come with a warning that users need to buy the real thing now. Of course, by that time, they are already Facebook sign-ups too, which is what this is really about. This is much the same tactic used by drug dealers seeking new customers by giving out samples and it similarly immoral. It is absurd to suggest, as Zuckerberg apparently does, that allowing a few more people to develop for the platform and suggesting that they in turn allow access to further sites (as long as they conform to Facebook’s conditions)  makes it in any way more open. It is coercing companies into using the app using much the same techniques it applies to building people’s social networks. A filtered internet via a Facebook-controlled app is not the free (as in speech) and open Internet and, ultimately, the most notable beneficiary is Facebook, though it is certainly doing the partner operators no harm either. The choice of domain name is cynical in the extreme – I’d admire the chutzpah if it were not so ugly. My respect goes to the many Indian companies that are pulling out in protest at its shameless destruction of net neutrality and greedy marketing under the false banner of philanthropy.

Address of the bookmark: http://techcrunch.com/2015/07/27/facebook-internet-org-one/

Protocols Instead Of Platforms: Rethinking Reddit, Twitter, Moderation And Free Speech | Techdirt

Reddit logoInteresting article on the rights of companies to moderate posts, following the recent Reddit furore that, in microcosm, raises a bunch of questions about the future of the social net itself. The distinction between freedom of speech and the rights of hosts to do whatever they goddam please – legal constraints permitting – is a fair and obvious one to make.

The author’s suggestion is to decentralize social media systems (specifically Twitter and Reddit though, by extension, others are implicated) by providing standards/protocols that could be implemented by multiple platforms, allowing the development of an ecosystem where different sites operate different moderation policies but, from an end-user perspective, being no more difficult to use than email.

The general idea behind this is older than the Internet. Of course, there already exist many systems that post via proprietary APIs to multiple places, from WordPress plugins to Known, not to mention those ubiquitous ‘share’ buttons found everywhere, such as at the bottom of this page. But, more saliently, email (SMTP), Internet Relay Chat (IRC), Jabber (XMPP), Usenet news (NNTP) are prototypical and hugely successful examples of exactly this kind of thing. In fact, NNTP is so close to Reddit’s pattern in form and intent that I don’t see why it could not be re-used, perhaps augmented to allow smarter ratings (not difficult within the existing standard). Famously, Twitter’s choice of character limit is entirely down to fitting a whole Tweet, including metadata, into a single SMS message, so that is already essentially done. However standards are not often in the interests of companies seeking lock-in and a competitive edge. Most notably, though they very much want to encourage posting in as many ways as possible, they very much want control of the viewing environment, as the gradual removal of RSS from prominent commercial sites like Twitter and Facebook shows in spades. I think that’s where a standard like this would run into difficulties getting off the ground. That and Metcalfe’s Law: people go where people go, and network value grows proportionally to the square of the number of users of a system (or far more than that, if Reed’s Law holds). Only a truly distributed system ubiquitously used system could avoid that problem. Such a thing has been suggested for Reddit and may yet arrive.

As long as we are in thrall to a few large centralized commercial companies and their platforms – the Stacks, as Bruce Sterling calls them – it ain’t going to work. Though an incomplete, buggy and over-complex implementation played a role, proprietary interest is essentially what has virtually killed OpenSocial, despite being a brilliant idea that was much along these lines but more open, and despite having virtually every large Internet company on board, bar one. Sadly, that one was the single most avaricious, amoral, parasitic company on the Web. Almost single-handedly, Facebook managed to virtually destroy the best thing that might have happened to the social web, that could have made it a genuine web rather than a bunch of centralized islands. It’s still out there, under the auspices of the W3C, but it doesn’t seem to be showing much sign of growth or deployment.

Facebook front pageFacebook has even bigger and worser ambitions. It is now, cynically and under the false pretense of opening access to third world countries, after the Internet itself. I hope the company soon crashes and burns as fast as it rose to prominence – this is theoretically possible, because the same cascades that created it can almost as rapidly destroy it, as the once-huge MySpace and Digg discovered to their cost. Sadly, it is run by very smart people that totally get networks and how to exploit them, and that has no ethical qualms to limit its growth (though it does have some ethical principles about some things, such as open source development – its business model is evil, but not all of its practices). It has so far staunchly resisted attack, notwithstanding its drop in popularity in established markets and a long history of truly stunning breaches of trust.

Do boycott Facebook if you can. If you need a reason, other than that you are contributing to the destruction of the open web by using it, remember that it tracks you hundreds of times in a single browsing session and, flaunting all semblance of ethical behaviour, it attempts to track you even if you opt out from allowing that. You are its product. Sadly, with its acquisition of companies like Instagram and Whatsapp, even if we can kill the primary platform, the infection is deep. But, as Reed’s Law shows, though each new user increases its value, every user that leaves Facebook or even that simply ignores it reduces its value by an identically exponential amount. Your vote counts!

Address of the bookmark: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20150717/11191531671/protocols-instead-platforms-rethinking-reddit-twitter-moderation-free-speech.shtml

Super-private social network launched to take on Facebook with support of Anonymous

The first question that emerges for a free, encrypted, ad-free, unsurveilled, intentionally private, celebrating anonymity, social networking site and mobile app like this is ‘How does it make enough money to support itself’? The answer appears to be a freemium model – you pay to use the API more than a basic amount, for storage, and a premium service. I am a little concerned that the terms and conditions seem to give the site owners free access and perpetual rights to use any public content. I don’t see why a creative commons licence could not have been applied, especially given the claimed open nature of the thing. None the less, this is a good step in the right direction, though I have to wonder whether it is really sustainable. A lot depends on its open source software: if content and identity can be distributed further and not limited to this one site, this could be a really interesting alternative to other systems based on a similar business model like WordPress and Known.

The software on which it runs is allegedly open source and available via https://www.minds.org/#/ – unfortunately, though, almost all of it, apart from a mobile client, is disappointingly listed as ‘coming soon’. Definitely one to watch, assuming the server software is to be open-sourced. It will be interesting to compare it with Elgg – the site itself seems slicker than most Elgg installations but .

Address of the bookmark: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/superprivate-social-network-launched-to-take-on-facebook-with-support-of-anonymous-10325307.html

Open access: beyond the journal

Interesting and thoughtful argument from Savage Minds mainly comparing the access models of two well-known anthropology journals, one of which has gone open and seems to be doing fine, the other of which is in dire straits and that almost certainly needs to open up, but for which it may be too late. I like two quotes in particular. The first is from the American Anthropologist’s editorial, explaining the difficulties they are in:

If you think that making money by giving away content is a bad idea, you should see what happens when the AAA tries to make money selling it. To put it kindly, our reader-pays model has never worked very well. Getting over our misconceptions about open access requires getting over misconceptions of the success of our existing publishing program. The choice we are facing is not that of an unworkable ideal versus a working system. It is the choice between a future system which may work and an existing system which we know does not.”

The second is from the author of the article:

CollabraOpen Library of the HumanitiesKnowledge Unlatched, and SciELO — blur the distinction between journal, platform, and community the same way Duke Ellington blurred the boundary between composer, performer, and conductor.”

I like that notion of blurring and believe that this is definitely the way to go. We are greatly in need of new models for the sharing, review, and discussion of academic works because the old ones make no sense any more. They are expensive, untimely, exclusionary and altogether over-populous. There have been many attempts to build dedicated platforms for that kind of thing over they years (one of my favourites being the early open peer-reviewing tools of JIME in the late 1990s, now a much more conventional journal, to its loss). But perhaps one of the most intriguing approaches of all comes not from academic presses but from the world of student newspapers. This article reports on a student newspaper shifting entirely into the (commercial but free) social media of Medium and Twitter, getting rid of the notion of a published newspaper altogether but still retaining some kind of coherent identity. I don’t love the notion of using these proprietary platforms one bit, though it makes a lot of sense for cash-strapped journalists trying to reach and interact with a broad readership, especially of students. Even so, there might be more manageable and more open, persistent ways (eg. syndicating from a platform like WordPress or Known). But I do like the purity of this approach and the general idea is liberating.

It might be too radical an idea for academia to embrace at the moment but I see no reason at all that a reliable curatorial team, with some of the benefits of editorial control, posting exclusively to social media, might not entirely replace the formal journal, for both process and product. It already happens to an extent, including through blogs (I have cited many), though it would still be a brave academic that chose to cite only from social media sources, at least for most papers and research reports. But what if those sources had the credibility of a journal editorial team behind them and were recognized in similar ways, with the added benefit of the innate peer review social media enables?  We could go further than that and use a web of trust to assert validity and authority of posts – again, that already occurs to some extent and there are venerable protocols and standards that could be re-used or further developed for that, from open badges to PGP, from trackbacks to WebMention. We are reaching the point where subtle distinctions between social media posts are fully realizable – they are not all one uniform stream of equally reliable content – where identity can be fairly reliably asserted, and where such an ‘unjournal’ could be entirely distributed, much like a Connectivist MOOC. Maybe more so: there is no reason there should even be a ‘base’ site to aggregate it all, as long as trust and identity were well established. It might even be unnecessary to have a name, though a hashtag would probably be worth using.

I wonder what the APA format for such a thing might be?

Address of the bookmark: http://savageminds.org/2015/05/27/open-access-what-cultural-anthropology-gets-right-and-american-anthropologist-gets-wrong/