Australian entrepreneur with FanFooty (alive) and Tinfinger (dead) on his CV. Working on new projects, podcasting weekly at the Coaches Box, and trying not to let microblogging take over this blog.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Stephen Conroy storms into censorship teacup

If there was any question about whether the incoming Labor government in Australia - in the form of Stephen Conroy, the new minister for geeks - had any more clue about IT than the last lot, it has just been answered with the news of the latest Australian Internet censorship hoo-hah. Last time this issue was raised in .au several years ago there were demonstrations in the streets, much uproar, weeks of press coverage... and when we got a look at it in action once the bureaucrats had actually implemented it, we realised that it was pretty much like a DMCA takedown system but just for child porn, and everyone forgot about it as a bad joke.

The plan announced by Conroy goes further, according to the ABC, by involving Internet service providers in their plan to provide "clean" feeds at the ISP level. Notable by their absence from the announcement, however, was any appearances by representatives from the Australian ISP industry. To my mind, this makes this pretty much stillborn regardless of the substance of the proposals. If you haven't got the Internet Industry Association rep standing next to you when making such an announcement, you haven't got the support of the industry, and you're just pissing in the wind.

The IIA did release an interesting document just before Christmas, however, entitled New Rules for Restricting Access to 18+ Content and Commercial MA15+ Internet, Mobile or Fixed Phone. The ABC article is short on detail, but I wonder if today's falderol is just a public airing of this minor regulatory change. These changes were "developed following extensive consultation with carriage service providers, industry associations, content service providers from across a range of media, private individuals, privacy advocacy organisations, consumer organisations and regulatory bodies"... but by the previous Liberal government, not Conroy and the ALP, which would make it rather disingenuous of him!

If this is the content of the hot air being expelled today by Conroy, there are enough holes to suggest that this is going to be another damp squib, but there is also enough FUD for newspaper journalists who have dreams of transferring to the general news desk to big-note themselves by beating the story up into another maelstrom of uninformed, divisive rabble-rousing. I hope the Australian industry will be once bitten, twice shy.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

An open letter to Marc Canter re OpenID

Dear Marc Canter,

G'day mate... hey, wake up! Crikey, you fall asleep at the slightest chance. Okay, I want to ask you about OpenID: specifically why someone like me, who is building a Web site which incorporates a turnkey social networking app (which happens to be yours, but that's not the crux of it), should enable users to log in to my system using OpenID. I know you're one of the champions of OpenID, so perhaps you can address some issues I still haven't had answered to my satisfaction yet.

My concerns are more fully expressed on episode #2 of the On The Pod podcast with Duncan Riley, with the OpenID stuff starting about 13 minutes in and going for seven or eight minutes. I'll list the concerns raised in order:

Big social networks aren't leading adoption. Kevin Rose promised in February to allow OpenID logins by the end of the year... wassup? Chris Messina puts NetVibes, Last.fm, PBWiki, MyBlogLog, Technorati and Wikipedia on his shitlist for breaking similar promises. This was Duncan's point, but I'm not so fussed about it from my own POV. I don't mind being a bleeding edge user of open technologies... if I was worried about that I wouldn't be integrating PeepAgg! :) However, I'm sure it worries a lot of other people in my position, so I guess it's part of the problem.

If big networks do finally get on board, small networks could be swamped by their users. As I said in the podcast: why would I want Facebook users (or users from AOL, one of the few existing implementors) to come in to my system and ruin the community I have set up with my own network of Tinfinger-specific users, when I am not going to get any benefit from them from a customer relationship management point of view? Building a distinct community is one of the fundamental tasks of starting a new social network. If everyone who is on Tinfinger is also on Twitter, and uses the same login, isn't it fairly difficult to forge a new identity for the collective userbase?

It's hard to build a business around a database of users, as most publishers do traditionally, when you don't own a distinct user database. I come from a niche magazine publishing background, where a lot of effort is put into building and maintaining a highly targeted user base, periodically culled to protect quality of readership so that advertisers can be delivered the best audience of potential buyers for their products. I understand that this mode of thinking has to be modified somewhat for the online environment, but it works bloody well for magazines, so I would need to hear a compelling argument as to why it can't be redeployed in some form for Web sites, particularly ones targeting a specific niche. OpenID seems to me to undermine that whole business plan.

So, there it is Marc. I've given you a little prior warning on this one and you said you'd get back to me in a day or so. I look forward to your reply.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Epic Knolz

You don't need me to tell you what Google Knol is. Here's why it will fail, according to what we have been told about it so far.

  • It's Wikipedia minus organised human oversight... which means it's just Blogger with a MediaWiki theme. You don't see Blogger sites dominating SERPs - not any more, anyway.
  • If claiming a Knol page is first-in-best-dressed, on its official opening there will be a hugely distasteful DNS-style land grab, mostly won by spammers.
  • Knol processes which are likely to fail without firmly directed human oversight: metapages like categories; page ownership; copyright violations; verbal abuse; racial content; anything else normally handled by Wikipedia's ArbCom.
  • Udi Manber says "The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors." Wrong approach. Wikipedia is all about the editors, truth be told. If you remove editors and leave it up to the authors, the project lacks focus.
  • Squidoo and Mahalo welcome spammers and SEO agents because they work cheap, but try to keep them on short leashes. Knol will be just as accommodating to these enemies of quality, but it does not sound like Google will provide the whip hand necessary to keep their excesses in check.

As it stands, if Knol succeeds, it will hurt Google. They have not explained why it is necessary to recreate Wikipedia. Someone other than Udi Manber needs to give valid reasons as to why Knol is at all needed, and why it is not a blatant attack on existing knowledge aggregators.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Crazy Uncle Dave vs striking writers

Dave Winer is obviously trolling in his piece today entitled The Hollywood writer's strike, but what the hell, it's a slow Saturday arvo and I don't feel like seeing Beowulf right now.

Dave takes the position that if he can make money without charging for his creative works, then no one should demand to be paid for being creative, at least where their content is delivered over the Internet. He claims that chances to make money off online content do not exist, which is completely ridiculous. One billion chances from Viacom's suit against YouTube alone, Dave. I see a lot of employers of striking writers on comScore's video traffic rankings. There must be money to be made there somewhere.

Dave invalidates his own argument by pointing to the fact that he got angry in the 90s about how as he claims, "creative work won't be directly paid for in the future". Let me see, what has changed since the mid-90s? Oh yes, back in the mid-90s Dave had created an intellectual asset (Frontier) and was still in the midst of trying to make it succeed. He felt the financial pressures of running a business, of paying wages, of setting himself up for the future. He is now independently wealthy from selling off his previous creative works, and is semi-retired. He has the luxury of treating his creative work as charity that he donates to the world. He no longer has to strive to succeed.

Dave, there are those of us who are not rich, who still have to work to earn a living. Please don't insult us by telling us that we should work for free, or accept anything less than an honest day's pay for an honest day's work.

The system is not going to "break", as Dave predicts. The system is capitalism, that's not going to get broken. Capitalism adapts. Capitalism wins. Individual workers lose when they don't stand up for their rights, which is why the writers' strike should be supported. Unless you're on the side of the executives.

Actually, I think I will go and see Beowulf. It is a fine example of technology and creativity being merged together, so that left-brain and right-brain types can work on the same project, and both get fairly compensated.