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Independence of Cyberspace

Cloud Computing

Social Networking

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Blast It Home


Back to Contents page







A Citizen's Guide to

The Internet

"What we find changes who we become" Anon.

net story



World Wide Web, provides virtually free access to a vast store of information and resources, a fast means of communication and self-publication. Big business uses it to ply its wares but it doesn't like its openness and freedom. Governments publicly applaud its openness and secretly draw up blueprints to use it as a controlling mechanism.

The Internet was born from the 'cold war' panic in the western world. The planning stage began in the late 1950s. The project was to produce an unbreakable means of communication in the midst of thermo-nuclear oblivion. An unbreakable Internet was just another piece of mania from the 'cold war' period but military funding provided an essential impetus to the project.

As we may think

From his essay "As We May Think" (1945), Vannevar Bush, told us about his idea for the memex "a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility"

As We May Think predicted many kinds of technology invented after its publication. However, he seems to have underestimated the value of the Memex for science and the storage of knowledge for the layman.

He accurately predicted the use of stored knowledge in laboratory research, business accounting, and law. Yet he neglected to see that it could affect the greatest number of people through entertainment and recreation, as in television, gaming, product information, and event/travel planning, banking and so forth. Bush never considered the power that might be unleashed by 100 million memexes all joined together.

Bush's project was about storage and retrieval, what later became known as information management. In his essay, Bush has much to say about users following data trails but his thinking was bounded by the technology of the time. The problem of following the trail was later solved by the use of hypertext.


Hypertext enables users of the Web to move seemlessly between web pages. Its use makes it possible to create a system of links between related and geographically distant information sources. Wikipedia demonstrates an excellent example of how to employ Hypertext to provide a study trail through a vast amount of information.

However, it also demonstrates the limitations of hypertext as the possibilities to get lost in a maze of links and lose the thread grow with every click. e.g. Wikipedia. This is the problem of the Web, Hypertext aids navigation but it doesn't solve the effective organisation of information.

Generally, on-line newspapers are good at using hypertext because their material has a narrow focus, a short shelf life and is easily indexed. Larger volumns of information and longer time spans present problems.

Wikipedia would be a case in point, many of the articles sporn too many hyperlinks, too many trails, taking the reader further and further away from the original article. This is a major problem for web designers.

The Xanadu Project

There are those who would argue that hypertext is a cull de sac for net progress, the limits of hypertext in its current form have been reached and all the expert groups have no answers.

Those involved in the Xanadu Project are in no doubt:

"The design of our electronic documents has shaped today's world. And so far it has been simple minded, shallow and darkly limiting."

This quote comes from the Transliterature homepage, these people have a legacy going back to the 1960s. Ted Nelson, who coined the term hypertext back in 1963 is the brains behind Xanadu.

One thing seems clear, at various points in the development of the Web and the browsers used to render web pages, decisions were made that hindered the progress of infomation management. And, worth noting, the biggest block to the full implementation of Xanadu is existing copyright legislation.

However, Xanadu has another problem, Ted Nelson, is as mad as a box of spanners and unable to articulate his vision for an alternative to hypertext. You can read what Nelson says all day long and still struggle to grasp how we get to Xanadu.

Who owns the Internet

The Internet does not belong to Google, eBay, and Amazon although you could be forgiven for thinking it was. All the wires, cables, and routers that enable the movement of information around the globe instantly are owned by governments and large Telcos. This global infrastructure grew from US efforts to build a post nuclear attack means of communication in the early 1960s.

The demands of the military drove network developments, like 'packet switching', that made fast and reliable communication between phyically remote computers possible. The research behind the cold war mania produced ARPANET, the initial core of today's Internet. From the late 60s onward, developments in global networking was the product of a collaborative international research effort.

And it's worth noting that for all those global connections copper wire was used and still is, currently only a limited amount of connectivity uses fibre optic, and satellites are rarely used - too expensive.

The Internet begat the Web

All the thinking and cleverness that went into the planning of that project resulted in something remarkable, way beyond the innovators' intentions. Initially, the net belonged to the military and science community, then business was brought in to finance the expansion of the project; for a very long time Joe Public was kept away. Home computers connected to the net just didn't exist, neither did the World Wide Web - that is, the ability to view web pages using a browser.

Ultimately, home computers and dial up connectivity arrived. Physicist Tim Berners-Lee, invented HTTP, Hypertext Transfer Protocal (1989). Berners-Lee was also responsible for one of the first web browsers. In addition, Berners-Lee, among many others, was finding practical applications for hypertext, as a means of organising and navigating to and through large amounts of information. Berners-Lee's personal project was and is about sharing useful information.

The Refereers

With the technical ingredients in place, all that was now needed was to open up access to the infrastructure for commerical traffic and this began to happen, enabling everyone to start using the Web. Not all academics were signed up to Berners-Lee's world view. The academic community, who largely had everything to themselves before the early 90s, did not want their networks opened up to commercial use. This was not surprising when you consider that the academic community saw itself as the referee, the arbiter of all knowledge - the growing potential of the Web would challenge this world view.

Jimmy Wales, who founded Wikipedia in 2001, suggests it's time for academics to play a much bigger role in disseminating knowledge by becoming expert editors for the on-line encyclopedia.

Early Internet Use

Before the first browsers came on the scene there were no web pages as we know them today but there were virtual communities, forums of people using dial-up bulletin board systems (BBS). One of first was The Well (1985) inspired by the spirit of counter culture, free access and free expression, collaboration and sharing. In a sense The Well established the 'open source' philosophy that still prevails on the Web today, despite Bill Gates's efforts to profit from the click of every mouse button.

Bill Gates and megalomania

Gates did his best to take control of the Web in the 1990s and attempted to use anti-competitive scams to force genuine innovators out of the browser market. Gates was late to the Internet party and he couldn't live with his own lack of foresight. Specifically, he couldn't comprehend the concept of collaboration, people giving freely of their time, giving software code away; there was no place for it in a mind that applauded only grasping. Ultimately, the US Courts freed the browser market from the grasping of Microsoft and even Gates had to give his browser away for nothing.

One of Gate's early Internet ideas was to set up a web site that people would pay to use, he described it as a 'walled garden', full of marvelous content. It was a short lived venture, it offered nothing that wasn't abundantly free elsewhere. This was Gate's last effort to control WWW. Gate's major contribution was in the realm of operating systems, not the WWW, he was and is bit part player.

Microsoft: still behind the curve

For more than a decade Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser has been making life difficult for web page designers, due to its sloth in adapting its browser to design innovations occurring within CSS3, i.e. cascading style sheets, and HTML5. In the western world, Internet Explorer is found on the majority of computers, so designers need to incorporate work-arounds or not adopt new features into their designs until Microsoft are ready.

The Paradox of the Web

The World Wide Web provides the free and unfettered exhange and access to information across the globe, it thrives on the counter cultural philosophy of anything goes and yet it is highly regulated and controlled at the level of its orgainisation. The WWW is open to everyone for a minimum outlay but governments can pull the plug if they fear the freedom it promotes (e.g. China). And the way its structured lends itself to an invasion of individual freedom, e.g. the UK Government's multi-billion pound scheme to eaves-drop on citizens' communications. We are also seeing threats to bar individual users from Web use to protect the profits of big business, who refuse to adopt and adapt their historic business models. This last example is worth pondering for a moment.

The efforts of big players in the music and film industries to prevent peer to peer file sharing are being constantly thwarted by the amateur Web pirates. Having no technical answer to the pirates, business uses its muscle to enlist political support to restrict the sharing activities of net users. What we have here are two diametrically opposed world views, the one insists on the openness of the web, the other seeks to control the web.

The newspaper industry is now considering charging for on-line versions of its publications, The Financial Times and Times have led the way. It doesn't like the concept of free, prevented by an innate arrogance about the ownership of public knowledge. Some are dreaming up electronic tagging systems to track web authors who steal 'their ideas'. And book publishers are in despair over the appearance of digitized versions of their blockbusters on the web before they appear in the shops but J K Rowling seems to be surviving.

The openness of the Web doesn't just threaten the insecurities of companies, it also makes governments fearful. And as China and Iran have demonstrated, the State wants to be the final arbiter of how open a society will be.

Business tries to use the Law to curtail Web freedom.

An Australian court ruled (Feb. 2010) that the country's third-largest broadband operator (iiNet)cannot be held responsible for the actions of illegal file-sharers

Britain is set to introduce legalisation that will require ISP’s to not only police their customers - but to disconnect those suspected of ‘illegal’ filesharing. 

The online copyright war: the day the internet hit back at big media

Hollywood v. the Internet (April 2012)

January 2012, Sopa, the Stop Online Piracy Act, was dead and a sister act, Pipa, a neat acronym for the Protect IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) was sunk too. Across Europe, Acta, the US-backed international copyright treaty stalled.

Free culture advocates has been campaigning for a relaxation of copyright law for years, the Sopa battle will be seen as a landmark in a much wider debate about the open nature of the internet compared with the closed, copyright-protected world from before the digital age.

The old guard don't understand the Internet, they perceive it as an organisation that they can take to task in the courts, that is, they don't see the millions of users, they want someone they can identify as an infringer – like Google's You Tube, who Viacom are suing for $1 billion.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) are also looking for someone to blame for advocating a free and open help yourself Internet. Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia) says the RIAA is missing the point. "They are irrelevant at this point. I don't care what they have to say. Someone is so far out of touch with what is going on in Washington, with the public and with their own industry."

For decades, the media industry has tightened its hold on copyright material. There are valid arguments for protecting the rights of content creators, but it is now clear that applying these rules to the digital age isn't going to work – not least because those now affected by copyright rules are not just other companies but ordinary people.

Megaupload, "Why should you pay these assholes money when you could pay the people who actually made it some money?" said Wales. If the media industry addressed the needs of its audience, there would be less piracy, he believes. He has a point: piracy in Sweden fell significantly after the introduction of Spotify, a streaming music service, which shows people want to reward artists for their work.

The big media bosses in music and film are still bemoaning the demise of their traditional point of sale revenue. Since the peer-to-peer filesharing site Napster emerged in 1999, music sales in the US have dropped 53%, from $14.6bn to $6.9bn in 2010. Perhaps it's time they stopped crying and embraced the Spotify model.

The film industry made $30bn at the box office worldwide, that figure represents only 10% of earnings for a hit film. The rest comes from cable and satellite channels, pay-per-view TV, video rentals, DVD sales and digital downloads. All that extra cash comes from sources that Hollywood once railed against, and lobbied for Sopa to crack down on.

Not everyone is waiting for the big industry players to adjust to the demands of the Internet users. Some people are beginning to challenge the received wisdom. Money is being raised via crowd sourcing to make independent films, people can now speak directly to their audiences and music can be made without the music industry. "Going straight to the web, or video on demand, or doing a deal with independent cinemas – these are all viable options now, the success of the Joseph Kony video tells its own story, without a tie-in deal with McDonalds.

P.S. Internet watchers say that Sopa will return after the US presidential elections in November?

Reasons to be cheerful

The controlling ambitions of some states may be damned by the distributive structure of the Web, the escape and sharing of information is not in one place, it's everywhere. The dissent broadcast mechanism is not conveniently packaged into easily identifiable groups but rather millions of individual voices and opinions. This broadcast of dissent cannot be phyically unplugged without unplugging all the activity that the State sanctions. Paradox!

The December 2010 attacks on Wikileaks demonstrate clearly that even the mighty USA can't stifle dissent.... but China and Syria are doing a pretty good job.

The Net will not be the saviour of our world

However, don't get too carried away.... In 2009 when young Iranians took to the streets to voice their dissent, they also Tweeted the rest of the world. Media commentators got carried away, talking about a new age of revolution sweeping Iran. The technology was truly remarkable, giving the down trodden masses a voice, from this change would surely come.

Change did not come from the Twitter revolution in Iran. Since the government of Mr Imadinnerjacket were also able to use the technology, in fact, they employed a army of tweeters to post positive messages about the regime. They used the technology to track down and silence dissenting voices. They discovered that most of those dissenting voices were not marching through the streets in Iran, they were lounging into their university rooms across Europe -

The Dark Side Luke (Aug. 2011)

Beyond the Internet, that Google thinks it owns, lays a deeper layer, a hidden web, containing supermarkets for illegal trading. Here criminals trade firearms, drug-making paraphernalia, hacking kits, compromised data and child porn', as well as, forged passports, stolen credit card details, and hardcore drugs. Some of the sites are nothing more than a hidden club for geeks and the hacking community; groups like LulzSec and Anonymous lurk on the Dark Side of the web.

The Dark Side has developed its own currency, Bitcoin, making it difficult for the forces of law and order to 'follow the money'.

The websites have deliberately obscure addresses and cannot be found by accident, and they are not indexed by any search engines. In order to access them a user must download special Tor software - and when they access the sites, the technology means that they do so anonymously; the software disguises the computer's IP address. The police claim to be on top of the problem?

The Personalisation of Information

King of the search engines, Google, has been heavily criticized for its antics, in particular, in relation to the hijacking of personal data whilst filming for its peep show, Street View. However, few users of Google will be aware of Google's new corporate strategy of personalising everyone's searches.

Google has re-written its code, so that when a user carries out a search, Google also attempts to second guess what else that user might be interested in. In addition, it will tailor the search list according to your supposed preferences.

The problem with this attempt at personalisation is that two individuals using the same search criteria will end up with different outcomes. In effect, Google's code makers are deciding what you get. They do this by assessing you against over 50 different criteria, building up a profile of you over time. This process of profile building informs the 'code' about what information you are interested in - whether you are interested or not.

July 2011......

British advertising firm WPP (Wire and Plastic Products) have just issued a press statement claiming "to have built the world's largest database of individuals' internet behaviour". This database, the firm claims, will be able to track "almost 100 per cent of the UK population". Obviously, WPP has no connection to the sale of wire and plastic, in fact it runs a network of 300 marketing and media companies across the globe - that's why it keeps the database.

Reducing the user's world view

Some argue that this corporate strategy puts users in an information bubble. Effectively, the user's world of information is being reduced and managed.

The creators of the internet envisaged something bigger and more important than a global system for sharing pictures of pets. The manifesto that helped launch the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the early 1990s championed a "civilisation of the Mind in cyberspace" – a kind of worldwide metabrain. Seven years after Perry Barlow penned his 'internet manifesto' an editorial in The Economist (2003) described his ideas as absurd and unlikely to usher in a civilisation of the mind. But then, the writer of the piece likened the Internet to 'just another appliance like radio and television' and so was hardly likely to be receptive to the ideas put forward by Barlow.

However, personalised filters may work to sever the synapses in that mind. Without knowing it, we may be giving ourselves a kind of global lobotomy instead.

If "code is law", as Creative Commons founder Larry Lessig declared, it's important to understand what the new lawmakers are trying to do.

The End of a Free Internet

Jaron Lanier, one of the brains behind virtual reality technology back in the 1980s, and now working for Microsoft has been saying that people should be paying for the information they find on the Internet. Put simply, he's saying that if you don't reward the people who generate the ideas, then they will stop generating ideas and you'll have nothing to steal, he calls this the remix culture.

Three big ideas from Lanier

First, the internet encouraged us to treat information frivolously and this is economically unsustainable for the middle classes, like himself.

Second, the idea is that the decisions we make in designing technology systems eventually come back to bite us. One of Lanier's heroes is Ted Nelson, the visionary who invented hypertext and foresaw a world in which everything ever written would be dynamically linked in such a way that humanity could be endlessly creative by combining ideas. But Nelson thought that the linking should be a two-way process and that it would also incorporate micro-payments, so that everyone would get paid whenever anyone used their stuff. In the end, we got a hypertext world in the form of the web, but with one-way linking only.

Finally, the web has gone from being a client-server model to one dominated by what Lanier calls "siren servers" such as Facebook, which hold billions of internet users in thrall without sharing the wealth that they generate with the people who create that wealth in the first place.

Support for this type of thinking is growing apace across the Atlantic.... read on,

Identity Ecosystem Steering Group - 4409

The Phoenix Convention Center hosted the Steering Group trying to create a blueprint to control access the internet. This is a government scheme designed to make it mandatory that for you to use the internet, we must submit to using a biometric online identification tool.

People are used to paying on their mobile phone but they aren’t used to paying for content on the desktop. The desktop browser paradigm is; stuff is free, the mobile paradigm is, you pay a ton for your usage, period.

Is this the shape of things to come?


The Internet is an amazing tool but no where near as amazing as it could be. The likes of Google, Facebook, and Twitter are beginning to morph into bigger, uglier beasts, concerned with maximizing revenue and maintaining market share. The smart guys who developed these systems are not interested in a "civilisation of the Mind in cyberspace", only selling advertising space.

However, all markets have their carpet baggers, the real problem with the Internet is the management of information, indexing that information, making all those documents easily accessable. The problems that Vannevar Bush highlighted in 'As we may think' are still with us.

The way we access and link documents on the Web is fine up to a point but much more is possible. Reviewing the ideas of Ted Nelson and others from the 1960s makes you wonder what's going on. One problem area seems to have been arriving at agreed standards, developments in HTML5 and CSS have improved things considerably over the past couple of years but change is painfully slow.

Most importantly the idea that the Web is some kind of revolutionary liberating device is flawed. Users of Twitter do not control the the Internet, states do and they can pull the plug on dissent as they choose, they can use it to track dissenters, and use it to spread their own propaganda. And in the land of the free, the liberal democracies, they can use it to eavesdrop on citizens, just in case they might become dissenters.

However, the Internet does provide a means to convey samizdat, to give a voice to the dissenters, to reach out in a way that radio and TV don't allow the average citizen to do. Any fool from GCHQ can eavesdrop on Facebook and Twitter but will struggle to do much more no matter how much money they throw at their snooping projects. And with some time and effort you can build your own web, independent of Google, Facebook and Twitter, find and store your own sources of information, create the type of Internet that suits your purposes not the money grubbers and create a genuine Market Place of Ideas.



A Citizen's Guide to The declaration of Independence of Cyberspace

The essay set out below was written by Perry Barlow in 1996, it sets out his manifesto for the web, unfortunately the money grubbers have been busy in the meantime, plundering civilisation like conquistadors and spreading typhus across Barlow's New World.


"We will create a civilisation of the Mind in Cyberspace."

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.

You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you create the wealth of our marketplaces. You do not know our culture, our ethics, or the unwritten codes that already provide our society more order than could be obtained by any of your impositions.

You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve. You use this claim as an excuse to invade our precincts. Many of these problems don't exist. Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means. We are forming our own Social
Contract . This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different.

Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.

We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.

We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.

Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are based on matter, There is no matter here.

Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge . Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognise is the Golden Rule. We hope we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis. But we cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose.

In the United States, you have today created a law, the Telecommunications Reform Act, which repudiates your own Constitution and insults the dreams of Jefferson, Washington, Mill, Madison, DeToqueville, and Brandeis. These dreams must now be born anew in us.

You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants. Because you fear them, you entrust your bureaucracies with the parental responsibilities you are too cowardly to confront yourselves. In our world, all the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, are parts of a seamless whole, the global conversation of bits. We cannot separate the air that chokes from the air upon which wings beat.

In China, Germany, France, Russia, Singapore, Italy and the United States, you are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at the frontiers of Cyberspace. These may keep out the contagion for a small time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in bit-bearing media.

Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own speech itself throughout the world. These laws would declare ideas to be another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron. In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.

These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in the same position as those previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who had to reject the authorities of distant, uninformed powers. We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies. We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts.

We will create a civilisation of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.

Davos, Switzerland
February 8, 1996

John Perry Barlow is a Fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, he was also a founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

This article is published under a Creative Commons license.


A Citizen's Guide to Cloud Computing



The Pentagon couldn't keep its data safe from lone hacker Gary McKinnon and mighty upset with themselves they were, nay, even spiteful in their remorse. Mega corporation Sony couldn't safeguard its users' personal data from the playful hacking community, very deep bows but no seppuku for the bosses.

Point: data held centrally, that can be accessed over the Internet, is not secure and not private.

And yet we are seeing a massive PR exercise taking place, attempting to persuade us all that placing all our preferences and private details in one place is a good idea.

Cloud Computing: What is it?

The Cloud is a metaphor for the mundane storage of data from a range of devices. So, if you are someone who has been seduced by Steve Jobs and bought into the Apple lifestyle, you'll own an iPad, an iPod, an iPhone and an Apple computer, you'll be able to access your data from all these devices from one source, i.e. the Cloud. And data from these individual devices will be synchronised for you, so changes made via Apps on one device will be updated on all devices.

Apple reportedly shelled out $4.5 million for the domain name iCloud.

Mr Jobs made a big deal over his iCloud but in truth he's late to the party. The idea has been around for a long time and most of big players in the IT business are offering something similar.

There's more...

Cloud Computing is the future of computing. The old model of installing a large suite of software on your home or office computer, most of which never gets used, is finished.

The Cloud allows you to only use the software you need, for the time it takes to do the job. Currently, you can use Google Docs for free. Many companies, newspapers and universities are starting to use on-line applications to cut down on overheads. A key feature and benefit for business is the ability to use apps working cooperatively with colleagues.

And although large data storage is mundane, keeping the data in-house is costly, after set-up costs, admin' is costly. Many companies are moving their data into the Clouds and indeed, whole countries, Iceland for instance, are gearing up as a global storage hub. Amazon have been suppling Cloud services for some time, providing bargain priced packages for business.

The Government's G-Cloud

Here's the what - our ConDem Government are buying into the idea of Cloud Computing big time. They are calling it G-Cloud.

The G-Cloud will be a place where your whole life is stored; medical history, employment records, tax details, pension details and so forth. You'll be able to access this information from your desktop, whether you'll be able to correct errors and omissions is still being debated.

Access will granted via a universal logon, that is, one password to access all Government services.

So far so good, as long as we buy into the comic fantasy that all your data will held securely to facilitate your dealings with Government departments. However, the G-Cloud project will include an audit trail, i.e. it will log how often you log in to various services and keep a record, but not for you?

G-Cloud will have 'trustworthy' private sector business partners, e.g. banks and phone companies, their involvement is still to be clarified.

Accountability is also a bit hazy - data misadventure occurs when some bureaucratic agent from the DWP leaves his laptop on the 8.30 train home to oblivion.

Such misadventures are common, they call it human error. We are not sure what they call it when they discover that the National Insurance database contains 8 million names that can't be traced.

The truth is that government is not good at keeping records, safe, secure and error free. Some privacy campaigners worry that once all the data disappears into the Cloud there wont be anyone to blame for data mismanagement.

Why do we need The Cloud?

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude says: the current duplication of services across government departments...

".... acts as a deterrent to people switching to digital channels, hampers the vision of digital being the primary channel for accessing government information and transactions, and provides an opportunity for fraudsters."

So, we are being asked to believe that putting all your personal data in one place, with sixty million other peoples' data will safeguard it against the gangsters. And more, we are all going to be encouraged to switch to digital channels ... oh, really?

ID Cards By The Back Door? Identity Assurance Scheme (IAS) the government's proof-of-identity system...

This is where the IAS fits in, this is your digital identity card. Wait a minute, didn't that nice Mr Maude appear on the TV news lobbing ID cards into a waste shredder? And did he not say:

"They have been wiped, have been crushed and reduced to bits of metal so that everyone can be absolutely sure that the identity-card scheme is now finally dead and buried."

Well, what's the difference between a physical plastic card and an abstract representation of a card. The question is rhetorical, nothing is the answer. And just like not being able to open a bank account without proof of identity, soon you wont be able to access The Cloud without your digital ID card. One supposes that this is where the banks, phone and utility companies come in, by providing some cross-referencing authorisation.

Computer types, who talk in foreign tongues, decribe the IAS as introducing a security 'layer' to web transactions - and you thought things were secure already?

Literally the bottom line

The latest estimates of fraud in the public sector put losses between £8bn and £25bn a year. The NFA estimates up to £6billion could be saved over the next three years if departments invested appropriately in preventing fraud.

The previous government estimated that increasing the provision of online services and reducing face to face contact will result in over £600m in new savings. Research by Socitm revealed that handling transactions over the web costs, on average, 27p per transaction, compared to £3.22 for a telephone or £6.56 for a face to face enquiry.


You can't keep doing your transactions on paper. The ConDem Government are determined to save some £80bn on its dealings with citizens. You will participate in this new scheme or you wont be doing much transacting.

You can't have security without surveillance. So whether you wanted an ID Card or not, you are going to need one to do business.

However, beyond Government games, your personal and business computer needs lays in the clouds.



A Citizen's Guide to Social Networking


Social online Networking...

is it a mediocre digital nightmare? Or is it something more special, is it about community and collaboration, is it about taking power from the few and distributing it a bit more widely, people informing and helping one another and "changing the way the world changes" (Grossman, Time, 2006).

Social Networking, has become, in recent years a key feature of Web use. Social networking is what happens when people that don't have any friends create a technology that allows citizens to go 'virtual' into a place where people who don't have friends make some and so-called celebrities stay in touch with the fragility of their own sad existence and people die without consequence and yet, occasionally, the technology appears to become a positive force... e.g. the elections in Iran or the scandal of Trafigura and the collusion of our justice system. Those bright people who created the Internet imagined social networking but not how business would take control of the it.

However, there is one notable exception to the money grubbing antics of the greedy bastards in the shape of Skype, which allows face to face web telephony for free anywhere in the world.

Skype: owned by 35% by eBay but the software that runs the show was only licenced and Joltid, the software owners, were not happy with eBay - so the lawyers were set to make a killing. But a deal was struck, which set Skype free from its commitment to Joltid. (Nov. 2009)

Note: the people behind Joltid, Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, are the same people who created the nefarious Kazaa peer-to-peer file sharing music software. Part of the post-Joltid deal brings Zennström and Friis back into playing an active role in Skype's development. Other companies involved include: US private equity group Silver Lake Partners backed by JP Morgan, Barclays and RBC Capital Markets, private equity firm Index Ventures, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Andreessen Horowtiz, a new venture capital group led by Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen and his long-term business partner Ben Horowitz. Expect an IPO (Initial Public Offering) soon.

Unfortunately, whatever the Web was supposed to be, it's not. The bit the marketing men and big business have not taken control of is now in the hands of the nutters; every fruitcake with a computer is out there blogging, making virtual friends, telling the world what they had for breakfast, living a 'second life', playing war games and generally losing themselves... is it all just the modern day equivalent of going to Butlins for a holiday, with the added attaction of spyware, adware, and domain hijackers.

Update 09/05/11

Microsoft buys Skype for $8.5bn?????


The Big Players.....

Facebook Inc.:

The social networking website Facebook announced in September 2012 that it has one billion users, the equivalent of about one in seven of the world's population.

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, welcomed the "amazing, humbling" milestone.

The social network, which was started by Zuckerberg whilst he was at university in 2004, reached the one billion figure at around midday on September 14.

Totally over-valued

This year has seen mixed fortunes for the company following the decision to float it on the stock market. Over 50 billion dollars (£31.2 billion) has dropped off Facebook's market value.

The company share price has fallen from 38 dollars (£23.50) when stocks were initially offered in May to yesterday's closing price of 21.83 dollars (£13.50).

According to reports the staggering number of users does not include bots or fake users. It includes only real people who are active users - those who log onto the site every month.

Based on the one billion figure if Facebook were a country it would now be the third largest in the world, behind China's 1.34 billion people and India which has a population of 1.2 billion.

Zuckerberg's own Facebook holdings have plummeted more than nine billion dollars (£5.6 billion) as sceptics question his ability to lead the company he founded eight years ago in a Harvard University dormitory.

Since founding Facebook Zuckerberg has seen it acquire astonishing popularity at a very fast pace and has become an increasingly important tool for advertisers and content creators.

More and more users are accessing Facebook on the go - 600 million use the social network on their mobiles at least once a month and the site can be reached on more than 7,000 different types of mobile devices.

And it is increasingly becoming a platform for other uses - more than nine million apps and websites are integrated with Facebook.

The median age of a Facebook user is 22 years old, which has dropped from 23 when the site hit the 500 million mark in July 2010.


The Important Bit

Gregory Lyons of iCrossing - a digital marketing agency - said today that the phenomenal growth of Facebook in western countries is likely to slow, but that expansion in developing countries is continuing apace: "Facebook can no longer rely on an increase in user numbers to increase revenue, it must start making more money per user and monetising alternative channels such as mobile, start selling user data/insights or offer advertising outside of Facebook."

In Britain Facebook has grown 6% and is now used by 50% of the entire UK population (30.6 million people) but will they admit to it?

Facebook starts charging (March 2013)

Facebook has started charging UK users up to £10 to send messages to celebrities and people they aren't 'friends' with. They say this is being done to stop users being bombarded with messages from strangers, nothing to do with fleecing the users then. Facebookers can still communicate with friends and people with whom they share mutual friends for free.

Those who want to contact a non-friends can now either pay a fee of around 71p to send the message directly to a person’s inbox along with an automatic alert, or send the message for free to a less visible folder. Many Facebook users do not even know this other folder exists. Users can pay the fee online instantly with a credit or debit card, but under-18s are barred from doing so. They are also blocked from receiving unsolicited messages.


You Tube: owned by Google. YouTube was set up by three former PayPal employees in 2005 and bought by Google at the end of 2006 for $1.6 billion. You Tube is straightforwardly a video-sharing website which has caused concern for the film and music industries, the Premier League and politicians. Critics would argue that You Tube is not the greatest policeman in the world, when it comes to monitoring user generated content. There have been a number of lawsuits but few have been successful to date.

Twitter: privately owned but backed up by a tangle of venture capitalists in the US. Twitter is described as a microblogging site, meaning you don't have to write an essay. In fact, postings, called Tweets, are limited to 140 characters - which is about all most Tweeters can manage, as they share the boring mundane details of the their daily lives with the rest of the world. The definition of a Twitter is "a short burst of inconsequential information," say no more. Currently, about 65 million tweets are posted each day. (July 2010)

Twitter - an alternative description.....Graffiti on a toilet wall but not as witty.


Internet Duds...

MySpace: controlled by Fox International Media, owned by News Corporation, i.e., Rupert Murdoch. This is the weakest spot in News Corp's finances its digital media division, where losses at the social networking website MySpace continue to pile up. Murdoch said he had confidence in a new management team charged with changing the direction of MySpace, which has been eclipsed in popularity by rival Facebook. He indicated that News Corp would keep trying to turn it around: "We'll see it through for some time yet." (July 2010) However, Dec. 2010, word on the Web is that MySpace is all but dead in the water, drowned by Facebook and Twitter.

Bebo: "Blog early, blog often" owned by AOL, owned by Time Warner Inc. (until June 2010) Now owned by Criterion Capital Partners. Bebo is not just about blogging and is very similar to Facebook in practice but its user base has declined in favour of Facebook and Twitter.


Selling Everything including Yourself....

There is also a business focussed social networking site, similar to Facebook called LinkedIn. This site has 70 million users and its main purpose is to allow people to 'network' in the business sense, i.e. sell themselves. Also growing fast in business networking are Viadeo (30 million) and XING (9 million).

Four-Square: owned by founder Dennis Crowley, launched into the digital world in 2009, Four-Square has 2 million users. And what do these people do? They tell the world where they are - that's it, I'm in Starbucks and if I tell the world often enough and I gain a frequency rating and may become a 'Mayor' of a given location. This late comer to Social Networking really is at the business end, ie. providing live marketing data for big business. " Our data generates hugely interesting trends that would enrich search", Crowley tells the world. Translated this means expect a tie up with a big search engine soon. Four-Square has been valued at $95 million (July 2010).

Groupon Dec. 2010 and April 2012.

Watch out for the rise of Groupon, a new form of Internet shopping. Also watch out for the demise of Groupon. One investment analyst is asking: "Is Groupon an Enron in the making", other voices are saying its already there. Apparently, Groupon are having problems with their accounts, specifically they don't to have anyone in-house who knows how to compile them. Some investors are already taking court action against the company. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) made management redo Groupon's financial statements and accounting practices not once, but twice before the company's January 2011 initial public offering (IPO).

Groupon is a compound of Group and Coupon. The basic idea, the more people that sign up for a deal, the cheaper it becomes.

A nice little earner for the founder, Andrew Mason, set to do a deal with Google said to be worth $6 billion.

Playing at Living (and dying)

World of Warcraft, often referred to as WoW, is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) owned by Blizzard Entertainment. WoW has 60% of the online game market with over 11 million subscribers a month. The gaming industry has eclipse the film box office by billions of dollars in recent years.

Second Life (SL) is a virtual world developed by Linden Labs. 'Residents' interact (sic) with each other through avatars. In January 2010, 18 million accounts were registered. Second Life, in all respects is just the same as the First one, i.e. reality. The difference lays in users ability to recreate themselves as they would wish to be via the use of the avatars.



The Modify App (first draft)

Somewhere near Reading, England, there's a young girl walking around with the idea in her head that something called 'a modify' exits. She thinks 'a modify' is a software App that can be used to stop virus attacks on computers.

This misunderstanding derives from hearing her teacher telling the class that viruses can modify a computer's operating system. At some point, whilst the teacher was attempting to enlighten his class, we can only suppose the girl's attention wandered off somewhere - never to return, perhaps, even now, she's busy scanning the App Store in search of the elusive Modify.

And why not? They say that penetrative insights may arise from misunderstanding, perhaps our young friend is on to something but maybe she's looking in the wrong place. Perhaps the Modify App is actually the Internet itself, for there are serious concerns that the Internet is having a transformative effect on human cognition.

Cognition and Reality

Cognition covers host of mental processes that handle information processing. The effectiveness with which we process data from the environment determines the people we are as we interact with that constantly changing environment. Put more simply, as things change, we change, whether we know it or not. In a sense we become modified by our environment.

A fact of life, one for long resisted by the scientific community, is that objectivity is impossible. When quantum physicists claim to capture an illusive neutrino they will not be able to show you the little blighter, only the product of its interaction with other particles. Then they will write up the details on a very large blackboard, to impress the people who award Nobel Prizes. The reason the physicist resorts to a blackboard full of equations is because it is the only place his assertions can be kept cosy and safe from people who demand to see the neutrino.

Shallow Reading?

In 2008, technology writer Nicholas G. Carr wrote an essay which was highly critical of the Internet's effect on cognition. Specifically, he focused on his own loss of concentration and reflection while reading. He claimed that his increasing use of the Internet to skim and scan text had altered his reading behaviour.

Carr was unable to point to any neurological and psychological studies to back up his suspicion that his own neural circuitry was being altered by, what he calls, shallow reading on the Internet.

Carr asked the question Is Google Making Us Stupid and the answer he arrived at is it might be since there are suggestions the plasticity of the brain lends itself to the influence of intellectual technologies, i.e. those that are supposed to extend our intellectual capacity like computers.

The medium is the message

“For the “content” of a medium is like a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watch-dog of the mind”

Meaning that the medium is more important than the message because it may change us more than any message it conveys.

The quote above is from Marshall McLuhan who set out his ideas on how changing technology changed society in his 1964 work, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.

In Understanding Media, McLuhan describes the "content" of a medium as a juicy piece of meat distracting the watchdog of the mind. People tend to focus on the obvious, the content, it provides us with valuable information but in the process we largely miss the changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly, over time.

McLuhan says:

"As society's values, norms and ways of doing things change because of the technology, it is then we realize the social implications of the medium. These range from cultural or religious issues and historical precedents, through interplay with existing conditions, to the secondary or tertiary effects in a cascade of interactions that we are not aware of."

One can only marvel at the things McLuhan says but there surely must be easier ways of explaining what you mean. He appears to saying that it is only when the changes introduced by different technologies become profound, embedded, that we become aware of their implications, i.e. after our behaviour has been modified by them.

The Interesting Question

How do you feel about being modified by an App?