Results tagged “internet”

10 Rules of Internet

July 17, 2013

In my years working in technology, I have learned a few things. These lessons have become oft-repeated refrains when speaking to people, so I thought I'd collect them so I have a link to send folks when needed.

  1. Given enough time, any object which can generate musical notes will be used to play the Super Mario Brothers theme on YouTube.
  2. Judging by their response, the meanest thing you can do to people on the Internet is to give them really good software for free.
  3. Three things never work: Voice chat, printers and projectors.
  4. Once a web community has decided to dislike a person, topic, or idea, the conversation will shift from criticizing the idea to become a competition about who can be most scathing in their condemnation. (See The Law of Fail.)
  5. Any new form of electronic communication will first be dismissed as trivial and worthless until it produces a profound result, after which it will be described as obvious and boring.
  6. If your website's full of assholes, it's your fault. (See the post on this topic.)
  7. Most websites treat "I like it" and "This is good" as the same thing, leading to most people on the Internet refusing to distinguish between "I don't like it" and "It's not good".
  8. When a company or industry is facing changes to its business due to technology, it will argue against the need for change based on the moral importance of its work, rather than trying to understand the social underpinnings.
  9. People will move mountains to earn a gold star by their name on the Internet.
  10. The only way to get useful feedback from people on the Internet is to ask questions that are actually answerable, instead of open-ended.

Bonus rules which apply equally on the Internet and off:

  • Never argue against logic with emotion, or against emotion using logic.
  • We hate most in others that which we fail to see in ourselves. (That's pretty much where this blog started, 14 years ago.)

The Web in Danger

November 16, 2009

I love the Internet. I love lots of things that are on the Internet. I have less love for things that want to undermine the Internet.

Tim O'Reilly, The War for the Web:

If you've followed my thinking about Web 2.0 from the beginning, you know that I believe we are engaged in a long term project to build an internet operating system. In my talks over the years, I've argued that there are two models of operating system, which I have characterized as "One Ring to Rule Them All" and "Small Pieces Loosely Joined," with the latter represented by a routing map of the Internet.

The first is the winner-takes-all world that we saw with Microsoft Windows on the PC, a world that promises simplicity and ease of use, but ends up diminishing user and developer choice as the operating system provider.

The second is an operating system that works like the Internet itself, like the web, and like open source operating systems like Linux: a world that is admittedly less polished, less controlled, but one that is profoundly generative of new innovations because anyone can bring new ideas to the market without having to ask permission of anyone.

I've outlined a few of the ways that big players like Facebook, Apple, and News Corp are potentially breaking the "small pieces loosely joined" model of the Internet. But perhaps most threatening of all are the natural monopolies created by Web 2.0 network effects.

One of the points I've made repeatedly about Web 2.0 is that it is the design of systems that get better the more people use them, and that over time, such systems have a natural tendency towards monopoly.

And so we've grown used to a world with one dominant search engine, one dominant online encyclopedia, one dominant online retailer, one dominant auction site, one dominant online classified site, and we've been readying ourselves for one dominant social network.

Doc Searls, Beyond Social Media:

Missing in action is credit to what goes below private platforms like Twitter, MySpace and Facebook — namely the Net, the Web, and the growing portfolio of standards that comprise the deep infrastructure, the geology, that makes social media (and everything else they support) possible.

Look at four other social things you can do on the Net (along with the standards and protocols that support them): email (SMTP, POP3, IMAP, MIME); blogging (HTTP, XML, RSS, Atom); podcasting (RSS); and instant messaging (IRC, XMPP, SIP/SIMPLE). Unlike private social media platforms, these are NEA: Nobody owns them, Everybody can use them and Anybody can improve them. That’s what makes them infrastructural and generative. (Even in cases where protocols were owned, such as by Dave Winer with RSS, efforts were made to remove ownership as an issue.)

Tweeting today is in many ways like instant messaging was when the only way you could do it was with AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple and ICQ. All were silos, with little if any interoperabiity. Some still are.

Chris Messina, The Death of the URL:

The rise of the “app store mentality” is a direct attack on the web, and on the very nature of free discovery and choice built upon URL-based hyperlinks. By depriving us the ability to pick and choose which “stores” we shop from on these devices — we’re empowering a new breed of middle men and ceding to them monopoly control over our digital experience. The architecture of the web was intended to withstand such threats — but that all changes when the hardware makers get into the content business! Even though developers are beginning to see the dark side of this faustian bargain, the momentum is huge — and big business smells money.

By removing our ability to navigate, choose, and share freely — these app stores are exchanging our freedom for a promise that they’ll keep us safe, give us everything we need, and do all the choosing of what’s “good enough” for us — all starting at ninety-nine cents a hit.

We cannot say we were not warned. We will not be able to say "nobody saw this coming". It's clear that, even those who are privileged by access and wealth and the ability to amplify their own voices have anticipated that we'll all be disenfranchised by the private companies that own and control our networks of communication. And yet, most of our effort and ambition in the technology industry are not going towards building for the open web. Most communities that are disadvantaged are still trying to win on networks that they don't own and will never control. Most of us are still cheering when the most powerful voices in culture and society embrace closed networks, instead of properly criticizing them for doing so.

I am still optimistic; Apple's control over smartphone usage with the iPhone today is but a sliver compared to AOL's enormous control over Internet access a decade ago, and AOL still eventually crumbled in the face of open standards. But the web's victory over the proprietary networks that have been built on top of it is not inevitable — it's going to take lots of hard work. And right now, it's not just the attention that's disproportionately lavished on proprietary platforms that want to undermine the open web, it's the money too. We'll have to turn those strengths into weaknesses if we're going to undo the trend towards disempowerment and centralization that's going on right now.

This, for me, is a social issue, a cultural issue, and a political issue, not just a technological issue. Perhaps we need to speak of it that way more often, to make the stakes clear.

"I felt like Ctrl-Alt-Deleting myself."

July 25, 2007

Since everyone's sending it to me, I'll post the prescient Onion video from last week. The highlight, for me, is two minutes into the clip.

Breaking News: All Online Data Lost After Internet Crash

Monoculture Considered Harmful

October 2, 2006

On our last episode, we revisited Dan Geer's analysis of software monoculture. Let's switch back to true biological monocultures again. Monoculture Considered Harmful is a paper published by John S. Quarterman in First Monday in January of 2002. The abstract gets to the heart of the matter:

Monoculture cotton crops and the economy they supported proved susceptible to a small insect in the early 20th century. There may be parallels in the Internet in the early 21st century.

The insect Quarterman refers to is the boll weevil, a small beetle that had the power to devastate the entire U.S. cotton crop in the early 1900s. Only relatively recently have efforts to eradicate it had any success, with programs being established in Texas and Oklahoma (where the weevil first had an impact) as well as North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

Most remarkable is the USDA's assessment of the impact of boll weevils:

Many experts consider the boll weevil second only to the Civil War as an agent of change in the South. Over the years, estimates of yield losses and control costs due to the boll weevil total more than $22 billion.

...The year before boll weevils marched into Georgia in 1915, the state produced 2.8 million bales of cotton. Less than 10 years later, Georgia's annual cotton production had fallen to 600,000 bales. By 1983, Georgia cotton production was down to 112,000 bales harvested from 115,000 acres.

The southern farming economy didn't even begin to recover from the economic impact until farmers began to cultivate other crops, including (most notably) the peanut. So why was the argicultural industry in the south so susceptible to attack from boll weevils? Because nearly all the cotton being grown was of a single species.

I have a long, long list of other faults of the cotton industry that are far more egregious than their choice of crop species, but it's simply impossible to ignore the lessons that were plainly spelled out by the devastating impact of boll weevils. Building an industry around a monoculture places the entire economy in danger from unanticipated threats. And it's only the adoption and embrace of a broader range of cultures that can help an industry protect itself from that danger, or sustain itself when facing a downturn.

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