Posts Tagged ‘internet’

Source: John C Abell, Wired Epicentre

There are no two ways about it: E-books are here to stay. Unless something as remarkable as Japan’s reversion to the sword occurs, digital books are the 21st century successor to print. And yet the e-book is fundamentally flawed. There are some aspects to print book culture that e-books can’t replicate (at least not easily) — yet.

Let’s put this into some context first. Amazon sparked the e-reader revolution with the first Kindle a mere two-and-a-half years ago, and it now already sells more e-books than all print books combined. Barnes & Noble, the century-old bricks-and-mortar bookseller, is being pursued by Liberty Media not because it has stores all over the place but because its Nook e-reader is the Kindle’s biggest competitor.

Reasonable arguments that the iPad would kill the e-reader seem laughable now, as both thrive and many people own one of each. One thing E-books and books are equally good at: In their own ways, they’re both platform agnostic.

But for all of the benefit they clearly bring, e-books are still falling short of a promise to make us forget their paper analogs. For now, you still lose something by moving on.

It isn’t always that way with tech: We rejoice at cutting the phone cord, we don’t fret that texting causes lousy penmanship and we are ecstatic that our computers, tablets and phones are replacing the TV set.

I’m not resorting to variations on the ambiguous tactile argument (“The feel and smell of paper is an integral part of the reading experience….”) that one hears from some late-to-never adopters. And — full disclosure — I have never owned an e-book reader, because I have an ingrained opposition to single-purpose devices. But since getting an iPad on day one, I haven’t purchased a print edition of anything for myself.

I am hooked — completely one with the idea that books are legacy items that may never go away, but have been forever marginalized as a niche medium. With that in mind, however, here are five things about e-books that might give you pause about saying good riddance to the printed page.

Fix these problems, and there really will be no limits to the e-book’s growth.

Continue reading …

1) An unfinished e-book isn’t a constant reminder to finish reading it.

Two months into 2011, The New York Times tech reporter (and former Wired reporter Jenna Wortham) wrote excitedly that she had finally finished her first e-book — how is such technological tardiness possible for someone so plugged in? Wortham had an excellent explanation: She kept forgetting to pick up any e-book she had started reading. It took the solemn determination of a New Year’s resolution to break that spell.

E-books don’t exist in your peripheral vision. They do not taunt you to finish what you started. They do not serve as constant, embarrassing reminders to your poor reading habits. Even 1,001 digital books are out of sight, and thus out of mind. A possible solution? Notifications that pop up to remind you that you’ve been on page 47 of A Shore Thing for 17 days.

2) You can’t keep your books all in one place.

Books arranged on your bookshelves don’t care what store they came from. But on tablets and smartphones, the shelves are divided by app — you can’t see all the e-books you own from various vendors, all in one place. There is simply no app for that. (With e-readers, you are doubly punished, because you can’t buy anything outside the company store anyway).

Apple doesn’t allow developers to tap into root information, which would be needed to create what would amount to a single library on an iOS device. If that restriction disappeared, there would still be the matter of individual vendors agreeing to cooperate — not a given since they are competitors and that kind of leveling could easily lead to price wars, for one thing.

But the way we e-read is the reverse of how we read. To pick up our next physical book, we peruse bookshelves we’ve arranged and pick something out. In the digital equivalent, we would see everything we own, tap on a book and it would invoke the app it requires — Kindle, Nook, Borders, etc. With the current sequence — open up a reader app, pick a book — you can easily forget what you own. Trivial? Try to imagine Borders dictating the size and shape of your bookshelf, and enforcing a rule that it hold only books you bought from them, and see if that thought offends you even a little bit.

3) Notes in the margins help you think.

It’s not enough to be able to highlight something. A careful reader wants to argue with the author, or amplify a point, or jot down an insight inspired by something freshly read. And it has to be proximate to the original — a separate notebook is ridiculous, even with a clever indexing system that seems inventable but is yet to be invented.

Books don’t offer much white space for readers to riff in, but e-books offer none. And what about the serendipity of sharing your thoughts, and being informed by the thoughts of others, from the messages in shared books?

Replicating this experience will take a new standard, adopted universally, among competitors whose book tech, unlike paper, is proprietary. For a notion of what this might look like, check out OpenMargin.

4) E-books are positioned as disposable, but aren’t priced that way.
This one is simple, and also easy to oversimplify since people still have to get paid. But until e-books truly add new value, the way Hollywood did with DVD extras, it’s just annoying to plunk down $13 for what amounts to a rental. E-books cost virtually nothing to produce, and yet the baseline cover price, set by publishers, is only fractionally below the discount price for the print version of new releases.

E-books can’t be shared, donated to your local library shelter, or re-sold. They don’t take up space, and thus coax conflicted feelings when it is time to weed some of them out. But because they aren’t social, even in the limited way that requires some degree of human contact in the physical world, they will also never be an extension of your personality. Which brings me to …

5) E-books can’t be used for interior design.

Before you roll your eyes at the shallowness of this gripe, consider this: When in your literate life you did not garnish your environment with books as a means of wordlessly introducing yourself to people in your circle? It probably began that time you toted The Cat in the Hat, trying not to be dispatched to bed during a grown-up dinner party.

It may be all about vanity, but books — how we arrange them, the ones we display in our public rooms, the ones we don’t keep — say a lot about what we want the world to think about us. Probably more than any other object in our homes, books are our coats of arms, our ice breakers, our calling cards. Locked in the dungeon of your digital reader, nobody can hear them speak on your behalf.

It’s a truism that no new medium kills the one that it eclipses — we still have radio, which pre-dates the internet, television and movies. So it would be foolish to predict the death of books anytime soon. And we haven’t seen the end of creative business models — there is no “all access pass” in book publishing, as is the trend now for magazines and the newspapers which have put up paywalls. Getting an e-book along with your print edition (or, the other way around) could be the best of both worlds, or the worst.

It would certainly solve my unexpected home decor problem.

Photo: Anthropologie store window, New York City. (John C Abell/

Do you know that more than 35 hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube every single minute? The videos were watched a total of 700 billion times in 2010 alone and with so many eyeballs, YouTube has become the second most popular search engine on the Internet.

YouTube Search

Advanced Video Search in Plain English

Searching videos on YouTube is simple but if you know a few tricks, it becomes even more fun and accurate. The YouTube team has considerably simplified their video search function making it easier for people to perform advanced searches on YouTube without learning any complicated syntax. Let’s look at some real-world examples:

#1. Find a specific YouTube channel

royal wedding, channel

YouTube will have numerous videos related to the royal wedding but if you are only looking for their official YouTube channel, add the word channel to your query separated by a comma.

#2. Limit your search to recently uploaded videos

oprah winfrey, this week

This will only show recent videos related to Oprah that have been uploaded to YouTube in the past week. You may also use “today” or “this month” to limit your search to videos that were uploaded in the past month.

#3. Find only official videos, no fan material please

never say never, partner

If you are looking for the ‘official’ Justin Bieber track and don’t want to see any parodies or fan material in the search results, add the word ‘partner’ to your search query.

#4. Find movies on YouTube

jackie chan, movie

Yes, you can find full-length movies on YouTube (including Bollywood titles). The search operator for finding movies is, you got it right, movie.

#5. Find high-quality videos on YouTube

the king's speech trailer, hd

Add the keyword hd to your search query and YouTube will only show High-definition video clips that are either 720p (1280×720) or 1080p (1920×1080 pixels).

#6. Find 3D video clips on YouTube

avatar, 3d

Got a pair of 3D glasses? Add the keyword 3D to your search query and discover 3D videos. You may also enjoy some 3D content on YouTube without the glasses – see details.

#7. Find video playlists on YouTube

bryan adams, playlist

Playlists are a great option if you want to find and watch (or listen) multiple related videos in one go – like all the Old Spice commercials or your favorite Savage Garden tracks. You may also copy YouTube playlists to your own account.

#8. Find lengthy videos on YouTube

tom and jerry cartoons, long

Add the keyword long to your search query and YouTube will only return videos that are at least 20 minutes in length.

#9. Perform exact-match searches on YouTube

allintitle:"google goes gaga"

You can borrow the popular allintitle search operator from Google on YouTube to perform exact title matches. Might be useful when the original video is not available in your country due to geographic restrictions.

#10. Mix and Match

ted talks, hd, this month, long

The best part about YouTube search is that you combine multiple search operators with commas and apply them all to your query (much like the Boolean AND operator). The above example will help use find all TED talks that have recently been uploaded to YouTube.

via digital inspiration

Meet – a search tool to help you discover RSS feeds around your topics of interest. You may use ctrlQ to find feeds for blogs, news websites, podcasts, and more.

A unique feature (see video demo) of this tool is that it you can preview feed content inline, from the the search results page itself, thus making it easier for you to decide whether a site / feed matches your interest or not.

You may use any of the Google advanced search operators – like site, allintitle or inurl – in your queries to further refine your search results. If you find an interesting feed, hit the corresponding Subscribe link to subscribe to that feed in your preferred news reader.

The site internally uses Google Feeds API while the presentation is made possible with YUI Library and the awesome jQuery. The feed button is powered by AddToAny.

RSS Search

via digital inspiration


New in Gmail’s Labs section is a feature that’s a saving grace for anybody waiting out a big attachment or slow server. Once activated, “Background Send” lets you move on to reading and managing other messages, while Gmail continues sending your messages behind the scenes.

Head to the Labs tab in Settings, then search out “Background send.” Enable that feature, and now your messages are sent using a different process, so you can start writing another message, or read through the rest of your inbox. If a message ultimately fails to send, Gmail will ping you at the top of your window to try it again now, or try it a bit later. It’s a must-have Labs feature for anyone who needs reliable access to Gmail.

Gmail does note at the Labs switch that you need to stay logged into Gmail while your messages are sending in the background—likely not an issue in most cases, but worth keeping in mind.

New in Labs: Background Send [Official Gmail Blog]

Nice post from UNEASYsilence on how to find out who is tracking you when you visit a website and how you can elminate the tracker.

Ghostery is your window into the invisible web – tags, web bugs, pixels and beacons that are included on web pages in order to get an idea of your online behavior. Ghostery tracks the trackers and gives you a roll-call of the ad networks, behavioral data providers, web publishers, and other companies interested in your activity.

Available as extensions for Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari, Ghostery also lets you block the trackers it finds, and view the source of suspect scripts. Running it is quite an eye-opener, to say the least.

Really cool to see what websites are really running on your computer!

Asher Moses, The Age


The entertainment industry has been warning of its impending demise for years. 

Photo: Denham

The entertainment industry has been warning of its impending demise for years.

Is piracy really sending the entertainment industry broke or are the claimed hundreds of millions of dollars in annual losses and thousands of job cuts just a load of hogwash?

The industry is constantly warning of an impending piracy apocalypse but continues to notch up healthy revenues and record box office takings.

From bogus figures to highly exaggerated press releases, analysts and academics claim there is no limit to the hyperbole record labels and movie studios will use in their relentless lobbying campaign.

With the industry reeling after repeatedly failing to use the courts to force internet providers to penalise illegal downloaders, it is now trying to persuade the government to implement new legislation that would crack down on internet users.

But critics say the industry isn’t playing fair and should refresh its business model for the digital age instead of stretching the truth in order to scare the government into implementing knee-jerk legislation.

Fudging the numbers

This month, a new lobbying group, the Australian Content Industry Group (ACIG), released new statistics to The Age, which claimed piracy was costing Australian content industries $900 million a year and 8000 jobs.

The report claims 4.7 million Australian internet users engaged in illegal downloading and this was set to increase to 8 million by 2016. By that time, the claimed losses to piracy would jump to $5.2 billion a year and 40,000 jobs.

But the report, which is just 12 pages long, is fundamentally flawed. It takes a model provided by an earlier European piracy study (which itself has been thoroughly debunked) and attempts to shoe-horn in extrapolated Australian figures that are at best highly questionable and at worst just made up.

What’s more, the report attempts to provide a five-year forecast based on a single year of data and also attempts to calculate lost Commonwealth tax revenue. It suggests there is a direct correlation between internet traffic growth and lost jobs in the content industry – but includes no new research into jobs in the entertainment industry to back this up.

“The main objective is to lobby politicians with this and to scare the public into compliance,” IBRS analyst Guy Cranswick said.

“The quality of data and analysis is very weak as its political objective is so clear.

“It does not use actual ABS data but data taken from Europe. It’s an elemental statistical error, it’s fudging with numbers to come out with a figure which is ‘kinda sorta’ plausible.”

The report was compiled by Sphere Analysis on behalf of ACIG, which comprises the main industry bodies for the music, games, software and book industries.

The author of the Sphere report, Emilio Ferrrer, said he believed the European study was credible and thorough and stood by his estimates for Australia, which he believed were conservative. Ferrer said that, even if the numbers were not completely correct, there was no denying that piracy was a significant issue for the industry that was only expected to increase with the arrival of the National Broadband Network.

Graphs from the ACIG report showing estimated losses to piracy. 

Graphs from the ACIG report showing estimated losses to piracy.

Twisting the government’s arm

Despite the flaws in the data, ACIG appears to be getting through to the government, with the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, using the report in a recent speech to highlight the threat of online piracy.

The tactic appears to be working overseas too with industry-generated reports succeeding in pushing governments in US, Britain, France and Ireland to act with onerous new laws.

ACIG’s report is far from the first Australian research to be criticised. Virtually every industry-commissioned report on the effects of piracy has been ridiculed by analysts.

The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), another local anti-piracy agency, released a report in February that claimed piracy had cost the economy $1.37 billion in lost revenue and 6100 jobs from July 2009 until July 2010.

The study, based on a survey of 3500 people, has also been heavily criticised by analysts, copyright lawyers and the online users’ lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA).

“The reports always headline ‘jobs lost to piracy’, but this has no basis in fact,” EFA chairman Colin Jacobs said.

“Money not spent by downloaders on movie tickets is almost certainly spent elsewhere on other goods and services that may be more efficient at creating jobs in Australia.”

Essentially, piracy is a reallocation of income, not a loss to the larger national economy. Jacobs also noted that the content industry was mostly based in the US so revenue was largely flowing offshore.

He pointed to a research report from Holland that found piracy was actually beneficial to the Dutch economy (a Canadian study has come to a similar conclusion). Other studios have found that illegal downloaders actually spent the most on music and that pirated copies served to market the legitimate versions.

‘Self-serving hyperbole’

The Australian Institute of Criminology for one has been reluctant to take the industry at its word when it comes to piracy losses.

“Although these estimates provide a general indication of the scale of the problem, the validity of the data is open to some debate,” the AIC wrote in its latest report on intellectual property crime in Australia.

The AIC has previously debunked claims that piracy was linked to organised crime and in a draft report leaked in 2006 said industry-provided piracy statistics were “self-serving hyperbole”.

“The AIC’s frustration was largely based on the fact that none of these groups will expose their reports to genuine peer review or analysis,” said Kimberlee Weatherall, a senior law lecturer at the University of Queensland, who specialises in copyright law and is highly critical of the industry’s piracy reports.

“When the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) looked into it at the request of US Congress, it expressed doubt about most of the industry-produced figures.”

Piracy figures derived by the entertainment industry have also been heavily criticised in the US and Europe. In some instances, the industry has admitted to grossly inflating its numbers.

Australia’s biggest pirate? Fat chance

In February last year, the anti-piracy arm of the music industry, Music Industry Piracy Investigations (MIPI), put out a thunderous press release claiming it had helped police “shut down one of Australia’s largest illegal music burning operations” in Melbourne.

Acting on information from MIPI, police seized “close to 100 CD burners and approximately 25,000 discs containing pirate music housed in a suburban CD store”.

MIPI’s general manager, Sabiene Heindl, said at the time: “This is one of the largest and most blatant illegal music burning labs that we have seen for some time.”

It was only this year that the case finally ground its way through the courts and further details were released.

Of the 25,000 “pirate” CDs that MIPI claimed it seized, 14,600 were blanks, while the remaining discs were mostly of Asian artists which the store, Lucky Bubble, had a licence to reproduce.

Less than 100 of the discs were proven to be pirated copies and the charges were dropped to the lowest possible level. The manager of the store, who claims the handful of pirated discs were placed in his shop by staff, in the end was let go with a $1500 fine.

It’s a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties and years in jail that MIPI warned about in its press release.

The police have recently returned the man’s burners and almost all of the seized discs.

“This whole operation from the start has just been a monumental stuff-up by MIPI,” said barrister Doug Potter, who represented the defence in this matter but has 18 years’ experience with Victoria Police and has previously helped MIPI with its prosecutions.

“This bloke’s got a legitimate licence to be selling material and they’ve tried to characterise him as the greatest pirate in Australia. If their assessment is right they don’t have a piracy problem, it’s as simple as that.”

Mr Potter said he believed that MIPI was trying to “justify their existence” by pursuing minor pirates and raiding the occasional market stall. He said most piracy was occurring on the internet and much of this MIPI was powerless to stop.

“Everyone’s sitting on their computers anonymously pirating stuff and they’re going after someone with just 96 discs and proclaiming a great victory – the reality is that hard copies of these things are going the way of the dinosaur,” he said.

The Lucky Bubble case is reminiscent of the case of 24-year-old Queensland man James Burt, who was forced to pay $1.5 million to Nintendo in a piracy case last year for uploading a copy of a new game to the internet after he managed to buy it before the official release date.

Nintendo claimed he was a major pirate who had caused it significant losses, but Burt’s father said he was simply acting under peer pressure from his friends. As for the losses, the game, New Super Mario Bros, went on to earn $20 million in revenue in just seven weeks, making it one of the fastest-selling games of all time.

Studios still raking it in

But despite the presence of internet piracy, is the local industry actually suffering? The results are mixed.

The Australian box office set its third consecutive record in 2010, reporting revenues of $1.128 billion – a 4 per cent increase on the previous result.

Figures released by the Australian Recording Industry Association show that, between 2009 and 2010, although the quantity of music sold rose almost 10 per cent, the dollar value of these sales dropped from $446 million to $384 million.

Sales of DVDs, Blu-ray discs and other packaged media are holding strong, with 2010 revenues at $1.29 billion – just 6 per cent lower than in 2009.

Mr Cranswick believes shifting the blame for lost sales on to piracy betrays a deficit of “imagination and insight” by the entertainment industry.

There were legions of other reasons that could account for changing fortunes including technology, demography, usage patterns and price models.

The music industry appears to be the worst affected by falling revenue but there are signs it will soon turn the corner thanks to new subscription-based online music services. A recent Ovum research report estimated the digital music industry would grow by 60 per cent to $US20 billion by 2015.

Mr Jacobs points out that despite its profits continuing to grow on an overall basis, the industry for a long time has made a lot of noise about the end of days. It has continuously protested against new technologies and lobbied governments to impose restrictions.

“The marketers of entertainment should ask themselves – if a quarter of Australian internet users are engaging in unauthorised downloads as they claim, is it because Australians are a bunch of immoral criminals? Or could there be another explanation?” he asked.

“Rather than treating the impending roll-out of the NBN as an apocalypse of piracy, the industry should be embracing the technology to provide a more compelling offering to their Australian customers. Sadly, it seems that innovation is harder than putting lawyers in charge.”

Our lives have become bold technological experiments, but we need to think hard before letting the computers and robots take over, says Sherry Turkle.

EVERYWHERE we turn, we face unprecedented technological change. On one hand there are the temptations of the sociable robots in the lab and on the horizon, machines that offer themselves as ready – or nearly ready – to talk to us about almost anything. Where once artificial intelligence researchers proposed artefacts that would win us over with their smartness, designers of these latest machines aim to seduce with sociability. Sociable robots press our “Darwinian buttons”: we respond to humanoid objects that make eye contact, track our motion and say our names as “creatures” with intentions, consciousness, even feelings.

Indeed, when an object reaches out and asks us to care for it, we find we not only want to care for it, but want it to care for us in return. Nurturance turns out to be the “killer app” in our relationships with the inanimate. We are vulnerable to new attachments, seduced by machines that ask for our care. They “pretend” to converse, but do not understand what we say. Engrossed by sociable robots, we are alone yet experience a new sense of intimacy.

From another direction, there are the temptations of the new relationships we can have with each other via mobile connectivity – always on and always on us. We now expect the control over our time and emotional resources that texting and messaging provide. We don’t use the “voice minutes” on our phones: we would rather text than talk. Talking comes to seem intrusive, a demand on our “real time”. We turn instead to Facebook, to “friending”, to Twitter, to worlds in which we play avatars – ourselves but not quite ourselves.

In online spaces we discover a surprising truth about identity. When we play an “other” (as an avatar in World of Warcraft, say) we end up playing aspects of ourselves. When we go to places such as Facebook where we think we will simply be ourselves, we end up playing roles, caught up in self-presentation. In our lives of performance, we face confusions. At the end of an evening of avatar-to-avatar chat in a networked game we feel, at one moment, in possession of a full social life and, in the next, curiously isolated, in tenuous complicity with strangers. We recreate ourselves with new bodies, homes, jobs and romances. We build a Facebook following and wonder to what degree followers are friends. We are together with other people, yet can feel utterly alone.

Teenagers say that when they have a feeling, they turn to online contacts (on their phones, on Facebook) because sharing a feeling has become part of having one. In a world of continual connection, people who are a touch away are there for continual validation. We move from “I have a feeling, I want to make a call” to “I want to have a feeling, I need to send a text”. When we use other people in this way, we can get used to seeing them as spare parts, as supports for our too-fragile selves.

So, alone with robots, we feel connected; together with people but not fully relating to them, we feel alone. We are in the still centre of a perfect storm. I call this the “robotic moment”, a technological moment in which we fear our lives with technology are out of control, and we fantasise, paradoxically, that it is technology that will help us re-establish control. Overwhelmed, we have been drawn to technologically mediated connections that seem low-risk, always at hand. If convenience and control continue to be the values we hold uppermost, we will be tempted by sociable robots which, just as slot machines attract a gambler, promise us excitement programmed in, just enough to keep us in the game.

At the robotic moment, we must also worry that we no longer complain about the simplification and reduction of relationships. We start down a path of substitution with the idea that technology provides alternatives that are better than nothing. Then we think that perhaps technology is better than some of the available human connections. Finally, we play with the idea that technology might be better than any human connection. From better than nothing to simply better.

An 11-year-old girl may start out saying that a robot dog might be better than a real one because her father is allergic to dogs. Next, she thinks that a robot dog is better than a real dog because it will “never die”. Then the child may allow herself to muse that a robot dog could be made to stay a cute puppy, more gratifying than any real dog could ever be. From better than nothing to better than anything.

There is a similar progression in the world of connectivity. When lonely and isolated, creating an avatar in Second Life may seem better than nothing. But online, slim, rich and buffed up, you feel you have more opportunities than in the real world. Better than nothing becomes better than something – or better than anything. Not surprisingly, people report feeling let down when they move from virtual to real life.

Sociable robots and online life both suggest the possibility of relationships the way we want them. Just as we can program a made-to-measure robot, we can reinvent ourselves as comely avatars. We can write the Facebook profile that pleases us. We can edit messages until they project the self we want to be.

And we can keep things simple. Our new media are well suited to the rudimentary, and because this is what technology serves up, we reduce our expectations of each other. An impatient high-school senior says to me: “If you really need to reach me, just shoot me a text.” He sounds just like my colleagues on a consulting job who tell me they would rather avoid face-to-face meetings and would prefer to communicate with “real-time texts”.

Our first embrace with sociable robotics is a window onto what we want from technology – and what we will do to accommodate it. We imagine networked life as expansive, but we are as fond of its constraints. We celebrate its “weak ties”, the bonds of acquaintance with people we may never meet, but that does not mean we prosper within them. We often stand depleted in the hype, finding ourselves tied up by the technology that promised to free us up.

Connectivity promises more time, but as smartphones erode boundaries between work and leisure, all the time in the world turns out to be not time enough. Even when not “at work”, we feel on call. Pressed, we want to edit out complexity. Control and simplification in communication means that when it comes to relationships, we end up with reduction and betrayal, asking ourselves simpler questions because we want instant answers on email. We come to a point where we are so smitten by the idea of conversation with computers that we forget what human conversation about human problems is about: human meaning through the first-hand knowledge of the human life cycle, something of which robots will be forever innocent, no matter how “expressive” we make their faces or voices.

Every technology demands we ask whether it expresses our human values – and, in turn, that we ask ourselves what they are. This is a moment of significant choice. We have agreed to a series of experiments on ourselves: robots to mind children and the elderly, technologies that denigrate and deny privacy, seductive simulations that present themselves as real places to live. We deserve better. When we remind ourselves that it is we who decide how to keep technology busy, we will have better.

Sherry Turkle is Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This essay is based on Alone Together (Basic Books), which with The Second Self and Life on the Screen completes her trilogy on digital life

From issue 2795 of New Scientist magazine, page 28-29 –

Web browsing on an iPhone and probably any other smartphone is a pain with having to zoom, scale and not being able to fit web pages designed for desktops. Cyberspace changes all of that by using Instapaper’s engine – built into the browser – to reformat any page for easy, clutter-free mobile reading. This is how the developer describes Cyberspace’s features:

  • Cyberspace works great with links-packed sites/articles (e.g. Wikis, social news sites, Tumblr dashboard, top-1000-something blog posts, etc). There’s no need to get out of your current context to check out a random link – just queue it to visit after you finish your current article.
  • Use Cyberspace to visit your favourite sites – the browser gives you access to both Local bookmarks and Online bookmarks for example saved on Delicious (I hope the developer will add Diigo at some stage).
  • You can key in the DuckBar anything – be it a web address or any search terms. Cyberspace’s so-called DuckBar not only provides Google Suggestions but also is a gateway to more than one hundred search engines and tons of other goodies. For example: prefix your terms with an exclamation mark (!) to use site-specific search. The DuckDuckGo-backed DuckBar supports more than 600 sites (try !google, !bing, !hackernews, !reddit, !tumblr).
  • You can change between different keyboard types at any time using the Switch keyboard button. Tap-and-hold any links or images to access the contextual menu. You can open it right away, copy it to clipboard, add it to the Reading
    Queue or send it to either Instapaper or Read It Later. Apart from the usual Cut/Copy/Paste command, Cyberspace will also equip you with the ability to search for selected text or add that search to the queue.
  • Cyberspace makes it easier to read things. For one, ad blocking is enabled by default. You also got the Readability bookmarklet at your finger tip – removing clutter around what you’re reading, stitching articles spanning several pages and focusing on the actual content of the web page are no-brainer. Last, Cyberspace features a Text mode powered by Instapaper Mobilizer. Pro tip: Turn it on when you go to Wikis.
  • Cyberspace helps you quickly share content on Instapaper, Read It Later, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Delicious, Pinboard and Google Reader. And it helps you automatically determines how it should share your content: as a link, an image, a quote, or a full length blog post.
  • If you have Pastebot and OmniFocus installed, you can also send content there for storage and turning into todo item.
  • Cyberspace features a scratchpad right within the app. You can use it to quickly jot down ideas and store random information you found on the web for your own purpose.
  • Links from other apps can be opened in Cyberspace by simply being copied to the clipboard. Upon launching, Cyberspace will offer you to either open them or queue them for later reading.
  • You can use your favorite TextExpander snippets in Cyberspace.
  • You can launch Cyberspace from another web browser by prefixing any link with the letter ‘c’.
  • None of your data is tied into Cyberspace — both your Reading queue and local bookmarks can be exported whenever you want

That’s it. Happy browsing!

(Click on the above image to watch the ad and put it on air)

Good, clean internet censorship? Help get this advert on the air and in the air – on every Qantas flight in the country during the next sitting week of Parliament.

The Government’s test trials on internet censorship are about to end, the results are nearly in and they’re looking to announce their plans to filter all internet activity.

We know exactly where every politician will be – on a Qantas flight to Canberra as Parliament resumes. Your contribution will allow us to show this ad directly to them, and their staff, making it an issue they can’t avoid.

Can you contribute $25, $50, $100 or more to make sure this ad gets on the air?

To accompany the launch of this ad, we’ve teamed up with a host of organisations – from children’s welfare groups to human rights organisations, who have united with us to oppose the Government’s internet filter that will do little to protect children online, other than diverting resources away from where they’re really needed.

Watch the Censordyne video, chip in to take it sky high, and read our joint statement here.

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This morning I reposted a Download Blog intro to Opera Unite; here now is an attempted summary of an article by Betanews on possible security issues arising from using Unite as your browser based web server.


The main question is whether the Unite APIs expose users file systems. Opera’s security documentation indicates that no Unite user can access another user’s file system directly because each user acting as a server creates a virtual image of his/her file system on Opera’s proxy servers, generating so-called mount points to which other users are given access.

Right now Unite capable apps work as widgets; question: can they expose these mount points. A widget’s config.xml file includes a reference to the File I/O API and that reference contains a parameter pointing by default to a designated shared folder. This folder could be be a safe one if designated by the widget and the widget itself being safe. But even then, according to the Opera documentation the parameter includes shortcuts leading directly to system folders in Windows, Mac, and Linux (e.g. My Documents in Windows) – how safe is that?

Exposing system files via the mount point is one thing – another is access rights. According to the Opera documentation, the end user’s level of access to the virtual file system is determined by the corresponding level of access in the Unite server’s physical file system, and the job of securing them is left to the developer. The documentation says:

WARNING: Once mounted, the mount point will be read-write unless the underlying file system defines it to be read-only,” the documentation reads. “Be careful to protect your data by controlling how data gets written to them. You should supply some sort of authentication of users who access these directories and be careful to not leave code open to exploitation.

So, it sounds like the developer has to offer the user clear access rights options and the user has to be aware of them, understand their importance and then make use of them accordingly. Whether all developers will be that conscientious or benevolent is doubtful.

Next question is: can the config.xml file be altered by third parties? The answer according to Opera is no: “The config.xml … is hidden away from the Unite protocol and other Web protocols that the browser responds to. It cannot be altered by any unsolicited requests.”

But: can a widget be designed to deliver malicious payloads or otherwise wreck havoc on a user’s file system? Again Opera plays down this security risk by saying that it will ‘pre-screen’ all developer widgets and certify the developer’s claims. This of course would only be the case for widgets downloaded from their repository. But we know from Mozilla how many extensions are being downloaded directly from developers’ sites. Will Opera allow the same for Unite widgets? Can it actually prevent this from happening? And if clients use non-approved widgets, how will Opera servers distinguish between them and the accredited ones? And what about developers running their own malicious widgets from their sites – how can Opera’s servers detect them?

Opera says that the communication between the widget and its servers is not based on SSL but its own protocol. “The authentication between the Opera Unite client and the Opera proxy happens via which is our secure authentication server. This is the same server that is used to authenticate all our services, like Opera Link.” Link is currently being used to synchronise data like bookmarks and other browser data between desktops and mobile platforms, and it is the communication between these platforms that is encrypted; what is not though is the access to the system. What risk will that pose?

Many of the comments to the Betanews post show that that current beta users of Unite seem to have little concern about these and other security issues. That in itself could already be a problem, making the whole system vulnerable. But I guess as Unite grows out of beta, hopefully security fears will be laid to rest. In the meantime I certainly will wait with using Unite.