On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dogleather-clad biker

Nobody knows you're a dogPeter Steiner’s adage “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” is well known, but it got a new twist here (in Denmark) this week.

The host of a radio show for children and young people was apparently a little too interested in his audience. He went into chat-rooms, talking up young girls, letting on that he was a talent scout with a model agency. A 15-year old girl agreed to meet him. What the show host didn’t know, was that the girl’s father was a member of a biker gang. The result of all that was a severe punch in the nose and a trip to the hospital.

Just goes to show that the warning not to take identities on the net at face value goes for both sides in a conversation…

Bing? I’m not feeling lucky.

Cory Doctorow tweeted about #fail at Bing, the Microsoft search site. I decided to poke around a bit. First impression: pretty picture, cool. But what about the search results?

First search for Firefox (open-source web browser competing with Internet Explorer)

  1. Firefox in French
  2. The mozilla Firefox site
  3. Firefox in Norwegian.

Not too bad, but the Danish Mozilla / Firefox sites do not come out on the first page. Bing guessed I’m in Denmark, yet they give me French, Norwegian, Hungarian, Portuguese, German, etc. With Google, I get the Danish Firefox site first, then the official one in English.

Next a search for “Thunderbird” (open-source competitor for Outlook)

  1. Thunderbird School of Global Management
  2. Mozilla Thunderbird auf Deutsch (from http://www.mozilla-europe.org)
  3. Thunderbird – O cliente de email da Mozilla. (Brazil?)
  4. Thunderbird – Reclaim your inbox

The real thing comes out fourth. Still no Danish in the first page. Google gives me the US Thunderbird site, then the Danish one.

How about “Explorer”? I get

  1. Japanese site about Jeans
  2. French Internet Explorer (IE) site
  3. Domain hijack site
  4. Domain hijack site
  5. Dutch Internet Explorer site
  6. Wikipedia entry for “exploration”

With Google, I get Danish IE site, then the US one.

Murdoch vs Google – back to business school

There’s been a lot of talk in the blogosphere lately about Murdoch, Google, Bing, and the possible future business models of news and search. Rupert Murdoch has been making noises that News Corp will block the Google search bot; Nicholas Carr added his thoughts a few days ago, and TechCrunch is expanding on the rumours.

So, what’s happening is this: news business (and news sites) are not having a good time financially, to put it mildly. They look in envy at Google and think “how did our advertiser money go there?”, and more pointedly “how do we get it back?”. The wet dream is “we could make Google pay for linking to us”. Not very likely? Well, they say, we could block the Google index bot, and then Google either pay up or will not make money from us. Of course, the sites will lose the traffic, so who’s hurting is not clear.

The is interesting; until a few years ago, search sites could index all web content that mattered, and everyone agreed it was cool as it drove visitors to the sites. The first major examples of content outside search reach was closed-community blogging sites such as LiveJournal, where people post under “friend filter”. With the rise of Facebook a major content site was outside search reach, and suddenly Facebook was seen as a challenger to Google with a (not quite clear) social search model. Now, content sites appear to be seriously pondering teaming up and locking out search-engines (that do not pay).

The rhetoric is part entitlement – “we pay for the content, the profit is rightfully ours” – and part concern for society as we know it – “democracy depends on quality journalism, and without income news businesses will not be able to afford it”. In reality, it’s all straight out of business school. The term we’re looking for is bargaining power. In retail, Kellogg’s and Walmart slug it out over who get the profit when you buy Cornflakes. Now, Google and News Corp may slug it out over (advertiser) profit when you read news. Until recently, the wisdom was that Google has all the bargaining power. In business school analysis, the limited resource is (to keep with our Wallmart example) “shelf space” at Google. There’s many news sites and only one Google.

Murdoch is probing to see it that has changed. The wild card is Microsoft. Looking for traction for Bing, they just might pay for linkage, partly out for desperation, and partly out of spite. Plus there’s Facebook looming in Googles horizon. This will be interesting to watch. Any change in this space will have great impact on the future of internet business – and could dramatically affect Googles ability to fund experiments and innovations.

Me, I’m not betting on Murdoch. I’m not convinced that access to (some) news sites is so important to Google that they’ll break their business model to keep it. Or that they are that scared (yet). Most of all, I’m not sure a search site that pays for linkage is a viable business proposition. But clearly Murdoch would like a share of the profit, and Microsoft wouldn’t mind damaging Googles core business, so the fight may be on.

Copenhagen Wave Meetup

Yesterday, I went to a the first Google Wave Meetup in Denmark. It was a good event, I thought. Mostly a crowd of youngsters, many of them students at the IT University. Since the crowd was decidedly heterogeneous, we didn’t dive into any particular topic. Daniel Graversen gave a quick introduction to what the wave is and the many ways to use it, and Jacques Holst spoke about how students at ITU use wave for shared note-taking during lectures, for organizing and running meetings, etc. Finally, Daniel spoke about Wave gadgets and robots and the potential for programming for the Wave. It was agreed the next Meetup will focus on Wave programming.

We did shared minutes of the meeting, and Daniel has posted his slides and comments to the Mastering Wave blog.

I really liked the use-cases; I was impressed with the enthusiasm of the ITU students, and the number of people joining note-taking waves. For wave to evolve and find a place in the tool ecology, these kinds of experiments are crucial. One interesting observation was that waves, like wikis, evolve patters and user roles; Jacques mentioned a person on the shared-notes waves taking always doing small improvements (spelling, grammar issues, layout fixes), much like the WikiGnome wikipattern. Getting a sense of key wave patterns is probably as important as (and closely linked to) evolution of wave etiquette.

One thing about it I found interesting was the energy in the room. Despite the altogether different setting, it felt a lot like hanging out in terminal rooms talking about usenet in the mid-80, or giving the first Perl lectures in the late 80’s/early 90’s. There was that mix of enthusiasm, confusion, and sharing. I have no idea either the Copenhagen Wave community or the Wave in general will go, but this is fun. Thanks to Daniel for organizing and to Jacques for providing facilities.

Kindle Skeptics

Today I had a random conversation about ebooks in general and the Kindle in particular at the most unlikely place – a random security check at Copenhagen airport. I’ve been taken out for these extra, thorough checks a couple of times, and they really do go over everything – turning on and checking each bit of electronics, looking through the items in your carry-on bag, etc. This takes time, and so there’s time for a chat. And as has happened frequently of late, the Kindle was what spurred the conversation.

Both security officers were interested in ebooks, intrigued by the possibilities, and quite well-informed. They wanted to know all about how I liked the Kindle – usability, how it is as a travel companion, the selection of books, the feel of it compared to a “real” book and compared to other devices, etc. They were impressed with all that. However, their concern was Amazon – or, rather, the Amazon business model even if that was not the words they used. They checked if I could buy books elsewhere than Amazon, about Amazon being able to delete my books. They were clearly skeptical about the Kindle and worried about the level of control Amazon has. They expressed interest in new, more open devices coming out.

This is good. It is good to hear that caution about single-vendor control and focus on open platforms has hold outside the geek community. It is also a sign that Amazon need to worry about this. Amazon still has a whopping lead and a chance to make good on first-mover advantage; However, if this kind of Kindle skepticism takes hold in the public, the advantage of the Kindle might erode so fast it ends up a millstone around Amazons neck.

The End of Book Sharing

I got a Kindle when the international version came out in October. I like it. Or, lets be more precise – I like the reading experience. I find reading books off the Kindle very agreeable. It just mostly does not get in the way of reading. But it comes with a license agreement, and my reaction when I saw that was “there goes book sharing”.

I other have gripes. The “international” part isn’t very international when it comes to it (more about that another day, maybe). Putting my own documents on the Kindle is way too complicated. There’s privacy concerns, and Amazon potentially deleting my books. And so on.

Cory Doctorow wrote about the license issue on BoingBoing yesterday. Apart from DRM being fundamentally broken, there’s a problem here that, at least for me, there’s a huge disconnect between how I usually treat books, and what the license allows. Back when I first ran into these licenses, it was about software, and that was not too bad. Software I will get, use, and eventually scrap. Passing it on is rare. Then digital music came along, and there was a problem. Music I usually buy and keep – and use many times. But I also let people borrow my CD’s, and I get inspiration from things I borrowed, and that doesn’t fit with DRM.

Books are different. Many books I buy and read, and put on a shelf not to be read by me again. Some of these I will lend to friends, sometimes many times. Some I give away. A book I buy may be used many times, but unlike a CD, a book will be mostly used by others. Likewise, friends plop books down on my desk, to read and keep, or give back, or pass on.

Books are shared. The format, the physical package, the way I read all make books sharing items. The license for the Kindle books go right against that. I just finished reading Carr’s “Does IT matter”, but I can’t pass it on to people I think would like it. That’s a serious problem – and one that’s hard to solve without abolishing DRM altogether. I don’t want Amazon to break the culture that surrounds books for me. I don’t want Amazon to destroy the intellectual sharing of passing books around – just because they are trying to turn what is for me a sharing item into a service, and a personal service at that.

I realize most ebooks come with some sort of shared account option. It’s possible to establish a shared bookshelf, so that at least I can share my books with my family. But that does not solve the problem of not being able to circulate books freely.

Augmenting reality

At the recent NORDUnet conference in Copenhagen, Pranav Mistry gave an excellent talk on his many experiments in reality tagging and augmenting reality.

The talk was recorded and is available in streaming video

The talk was both an inspiration and a call for a different perspective on the way we use (internet) technologies. A recurrent theme in the talk was that Pranav prefers the real world over virtual realities, prefers to interact with physical objects to interacting with things inside a computer, and very much prefer interacting with people face-to-face to computer-mediated interaction. As a result, he pursues ways to make the computer assist and help in invisible ways; he seeks to improve physical-world objects and interactions by using tech to augments them. At times it’s sort of reverse human-computer interaction research – he’s using handwriting recognition, but not as an input method for computers; instead, the computer is used to improve the handwritten note. In Pranav’s vision, the paper with handwriting on it is the real thing; the computer is as invisible as the paper mill, contributing to making the paper useful, but not the subject matter for the user, or even an objet the user should be aware of.

It’s worth pointing out that there’s nothing luddite about it. There’s lots of tech, and even exciting new tech in what Pranav is doing. The result is just very different from what you usually see. His hugely exciting mobile phone device is a good example. It’s impressive tech, but it actively projects attention on the world around it – in a way that could hardly be more different than the iPhone i have in my pocket.