May 10, 2013

The failure of a remixable Internet

Months ago, my choice of web-based IM aggregators, Meebo, was purchased by Google and discontinued. Google, like Microsoft before, is deep in the era of purchasing companies for their internal skills and then killing the original product of those skills. I started using Meebo several employers back when the desktop client Digsby was blocked by their IT dept. Digsby had superseded Trillian for me, based on a recommendation from my bro-in-law. I wanted to like the open-source Pidgin but could not. The web-based solutions were ideal for access anywhere (yay, the cloud!), and so I doubt I'll move back to a desktop client. Web-based services can also provide a single archive of all of your conversations. I had used a now-defunct service called Dexrex to archive, but it has since welshed on its promise to provide export and search, and just recently went offline complete (fuck you, cloud!).

After the death of Meebo, I, like many others, moved to imo. It was in many ways better and provided both import and export, including import of the Meebo data. One benefit of having Google buy-then-kill your product: their Data Liberation Front army will make sure its data is retrievable in the most standards-compliant form available. I have a general distrust of loss-of-ownership, and a robust import/export mitigates that. A variation on this is the oddness of Apple forcing users to port their information from MobileMe to iCloud when MM was discontinued. Pretty bold offloading your own internal work to your customers. Imo had been doing its job without much fuss up until last weekend when their connection to Skype's network started failing. It has not yet come back. One theory is that since Microsoft, who purchased Skype, is adding web-based Skype access, they must kill access from other OSes such as Chrome. The removal of Skype from imo has, inexplicably, also removed access to your archived Skype conversation. No word yet on if they will become available again.

These aggregation tools are one of the key concepts behind the web--a system that links services--and walled gardens are a barrier to implementing that concept. There is a trend toward products with no user serviceable parts inside (a la the iPad and Facebook) but it is not necessarily the dominant thread in computer evolution. Wikipedia, open source code libraries, embeddable YouTube videos, embeddable tweets, and RSS are all enablers of that other thread (ignoring the dreaded "Video No Longer Available" static). W/r/t the closed systems: avoid those you can and back up frequently. An easy exit strategy is your plan B.

posted by sstrader at 8:39 AM in Internet | permalink | comments (0)

June 18, 2010

The frontier

In Closing the Digital Frontier [ via On the Media: Information Wants to Be Expensive ], Michael Hirschorn argues that the death of advertising (see Bob Garfield's own The Chaos Scenario) has brought about the closed systems that are mobile phones. The iPhone being the worst offender and most adept exploiter. The shift of the digital frontier from the Web to the smart phone signals a radical shift from openness to a degree of closed-ness that would have been remarkable even before 1995. Facebook and iPhone are two augurs of the end of a rich frontier.

posted by sstrader at 5:15 PM in Internet , Phones | permalink | comments (0)

April 13, 2010

iPhone, the platform most hated by developers

The new TOS for the upcoming iPhone OS 4.0 introduces additional restrictions on how developers can create applications for the device. Any application must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine. In other words: no cross compilers. Cross compilers provide a single development environment that compiles a single code base to multiple platforms such as the iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android. This saves developers hundreds and thousands of hours of development time they would otherwise have to spend creating multiple code bases. The biggest company affected is (natch) Adobe and their upcoming release of Creative Suite which adds a much-touted Flash-to-iPhone compiler. Several smaller, but no less important, tool makers are affected as are the many developers that make a living off of games and whatnot written using those applications. Developers are now faced with the choice of supporting multiple code bases or being locked in to iPhone development.

Apple's choice, if we can divine intent, was a strategic move to lock developers in to the iPhone over other mobile platforms. Cross compiler companies' choice is to lock developers into their cross compiler over other, single platform compilers. Developers are offered a clear benefit by choosing the latter's lock in, not so with the former's.

I don't have a dog in this race, but I'm a developer and love the tech and social aspects of our mobile web present and future. Apple can do whatever it wants with the iPhone/Pad, just as Microsoft did whatever it wanted years ago to attempt to lock in developers with the Visual J++ mutation of Java. However, it's important to note the costs developers should consider when choosing the route of lock in. Short-term gains may have long-term drawbacks.

Some reading:

Geeks insist the iPad is for "their moms" to use as they stand in line to purchase one (or more) for themselves. This self-deceit is used to justify the purchase of what would otherwise be considered a grossly limited netbook. When developers choose to develop on the iPhone for the chance to get rich (many do), they also choose to navigate the capricious business dictates of Apple. Developers generally don't seek out arbitrary corporate limitations when choosing projects either fun or profitable, but with "do what works" as a common mantra, neither are they an overly principled bunch. We'll see if Android benefits from this.

posted by sstrader at 12:25 AM in Phones , Programming | permalink | comments (0)

March 18, 2010

Android, iPhone, criticism

Tim Bray's left Sunoracle for Google; working on the Android. In his announcement of the switch he denounced the walled garden that is the iPhone. He re-visits the thoughts I had concerning the iPhone, more sharply: It's a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers. The people who create the apps serve at the landlord's pleasure and fear his anger. ... I hate it. Non-Android-bashing is his job now, so take that for what it's worth. RWW reported that the Droid (unlike the Nexus One) basically matched the iPhone's sales when you compare the first 2-1/2 months of each. An unlike comparison, but all we have to judge is imperfect metaphors at this point.

In the Slashdot discussion of the Tim Bray story, several people take this opportunity to take up what is becoming an old chestnut of internet flame wars. One, criticising disingenuous arguments defending the iPad's limitations:

That the iPad is crippled because it's simplified for grandmothers (it's not, it's designed for internet addicts who already have at least one computer); that the walled garden is for security (it's for profit and lock-in)...[ 1 ]

And another pointing out the feeling of missed opportunity:

The iPad is a nice device. But there are a lot of things inherently wrong with it. And I find it worrying that Apple, otherwise often a pioneer in technology is capable of ruining an otherwise good device and wants to severely restrict what I do with it. I think there's something very wrong with that.[ 2 ]

This second, and certain thread replies, gets to an interesting point. Many who have been criticizing the iPad (ahem) have been treated as idealists or fanatics. Apple holds a special position among geeks, and so criticizing them can hold special weight. Like asserting that Beethoven was a hack or Einstein dull-witted, criticism of Apple can appear to be merely attention-grabbing. I had mentioned before that my old iRiver MP3 player restricted copying from it to a computer. This is an archaic idea that would not be tolerated in today's marketplace. If a company decided to create such a consumer-limiting device, any geek would immediately rail against it on principle. If it were made by Apple, those geeks would be mocked.

From the original news story, I noted what I called the backlash backlash: criticism of the iPad was the first order backlash, and criticism of that criticism was the second order. I've always been befuddled by criticism of criticism in the arts. There, it represents a gall that another person might have an objective assessment of what some believe to be subjective: aesthetic quality. Other, more general possibilities explaining hostility towards criticism are (1) that you can't criticize unless you are an artist, or (2) that critics are simply arrogant and negative--tearing down that which is better than them. A complement to this belief is that praise of a work of art is both true and valid.

posted by sstrader at 6:18 PM in Home Network & Gadgets , Phones | permalink | comments (0)

January 30, 2010

Control and the iPad

To paraphrase (myself): a boycott of the iPhone [is] the act of a responsible technology user. Annalee Newitz at io9, among many, many others [ Gizmodo | Mashable ] , has a long rant about the closed nature of the iPad in the article Why The iPad Is Crap Futurism. Newitz points out [t]he iPad has all the problems of television, with none of the benefits of computers. However, Newitz is not of the boycott ilk and instead suggests people... do something else?

I know a lot of otherwise-savvy consumers and hackers who are already drooling over the iPad and putting in their orders. They hate the idea of a restricted device, but they love the shiny-shiny. I'm not saying that they should deprive themselves of this pretty new toy. What I am saying is that this toy represents a crappy, pathetic future. It is no more revolutionary than those expensive, hot boots I bought at Fluevog, and only slightly more useful.

Mashable was more explicit:

You won't be able to drag and drop or share files with other computers like you can with your laptop on your home network. You won't be able to download a program or music file from the web and play it on the spot. You won't be able to use any application that doesn't meet Apple's strict approval guidelines.

And really, if consumers want a deficient-yet-wish-fulfilling device, tech pundits aren't going to stop them. Still, when someone asks you (oh, tech pundit) what specs they should look for in a new home computer or printer, what do you say? First of all, you steer them away from throwing their money away on inkjets. They may not listen and may only think of the $$$s they'll save buying a sleek looking HP DeskJet, but you would at least pass the knowledge along. As before, this necessary-yet-unheeded advice will be the same with the iPad, if a bit more philosophical. User control on the iPad, when included at all, is almost an afterthought. An appendix ready to be excised for it's absence of utility. Home computers gave us power through their mutability; Apple's new devices tell us we aren't responsible enough to install any applications we want. This may be the future of internet appliances, but it should not replace home computers.

With netbooks now nearly as powerful as full-sized laptops and costing < $300 (cf. a $500 iPad), it may be time to replace my humble 2-year-old first generation Asus Eee.

[ updated 1 Feb 2010 ]

The backlash backlash has begun with Gizmodo's article iPad Snivelers: Put Up or Shut Up. A poorly written rant against those who criticize the iPad saying, basically, that using other flawed hardware or software--along with failure to create your own hardware (no, I am not making this up)--bars you from complaining about the iPad's flaws. If this is the state of the art of Apple defenders, we critics should feel vindicated. The iPad is a platform that, if it dominated households, would have prevented the creation of the Firefox browser. How railing against such an environment can be called noxious ... childish ... defeatist is beyond me.

[ updated 2 Feb 2010 ]

Two more interesting takes (with further backlash backlash showing up in the comments). The iPad's Closed System: Sometimes I Hate Being Right at Popular Science questions the choice of iPhone OS over OSX, reemphasizing the gripes that Mashable had: [With OSX,] you can download and install any program you want. You can watch TV shows and movies from a variety or sources. You can purchase and listen to music however you prefer. Heck, you can poke around a file system. But you can't do any of this on the iPad. Google's Tablet versus Apple's iPad: Open versus Closed? at RWW goes further afield and examines how each is closed in different ways, offering a choice between the one that watches your activities everywhere on the web [Google] and the one that wants to control what the web even is [Apple]. However since Google's offering is not even an offering yet, much speculation is contained.

posted by sstrader at 10:43 AM in Home Network & Gadgets , Phones | permalink | comments (0)

January 2, 2010

Today's reading list

  • Welcome to the out-of-control decade: We have seen the future, and it doesn't belong to you - More and more I'm considering a boycott of the iPhone the act of a responsible technology user. People stop using applications out of convenience if they are cumbersome. People stop using apps for moral reasons if they steal private information. Because Apple controls what software is allowed to be written for the iPhone, it is a closed hardware system where the owner is unable to install anything they might want. No one would ever produce a laptop that restricted users in such a manner; it would be met with the same abhorrence as an application stealing private information. I remember having an old iRiver MP3 player (256 MB!) that only allowed me to copy to it and not from it. MP3 players, despite the RIAA, have become more open. Will all personal devices start trending towards the closed system that Apple models? My comment on selling your privacy for convenience (a major theme in the young adult novel Feed): Something we think we want can give us what we want and yet still be destructive.
  • Separating Explosives from the Detonator - Bruce Schneier is vindicated for his longtime warnings of the US's flawed security theater: Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers. A round-up of his interviews after the fact. Commenting on how rare it is for a terrorist act hurt anyone (highway fatalities being a more serious threat), he says: A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy our country's way of life; it's only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage.
  • UPular mixed by Pogo [ via VOTD: POGO's UPular] - A fun and funky remix of scenes from UP. Made me want to watch the (wonderful) movie again.

  • Watch This: Skhizein, an Incredible Animated Short Film - Thoughtful animated short from France about a man who exists beside himself after being hit by a meteor. Beautiful.

    Skhizein (Jérémy Clapin,2008) from Bertie on Vimeo.

posted by sstrader at 11:53 AM in Phones , Today's reading list | permalink | comments (1)

August 28, 2009

Week's reading list

Opera Mini Is Most Downloaded Mobile App - A flawed survey but it mimics what I've read from European/non-US sources. Some of the flaws I've found with Opera Mini on my BlackBerry Storm:

  • Cannot copy text from a page.
  • Cannot copy link addresses.
  • Manually entering an address is cumbersome.
  • You must touch a link (and not click it) to navigate to that link.
  • In mobile layout, which is more condensed, check boxes are virtually un-checkable.
  • Bookmarks can be resorted by touching (not clicking) and dragging in the list. Most of the time, they respond by resorting to unexpected locations in the list.
  • Search keys (via the address bar) are not available.
  • Opening images and videos shell out to the BlackBerry browser.

Health insurers admit using 50,000 employees to lobby Congress to defend their outrageous profits - This is a tough one: on the one hand, a corporation is strong-arming it's employees to act in the political interest of the company; on the other, those employees have every right to say no. It

Johann Hari: Republicans, religion and the triumph of unreason - How do they train themselves to be so impervious to reality? - Every paragraph is a gem. I'll pick two to quote:

This tendency to simply deny inconvenient facts and invent a fantasy world isn't new; it's only becoming more heightened. It ran through the Bush years like a dash of bourbon in water. When it became clear that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, the US right simply claimed they had been shipped to Syria. When the scientific evidence for man-made global warming became unanswerable, they claimed - as one Republican congressman put it - that it was "the greatest hoax in human history", and that all the world's climatologists were "liars". The American media then presents itself as an umpire between "the rival sides", as if they both had evidence behind them.

It's a shame, because there are some areas in which a conservative philosophy - reminding us of the limits of grand human schemes, and advising caution - could be a useful corrective. But that's not what these so-called "conservatives" are providing: instead, they are pumping up a hysterical fantasy that serves as a thin skin covering some raw economic interests and base prejudices.

That second one bears repeating. There are many good arguments to be had on healthcare reform. We're not having them and instead allowing the crazies to define the discussion.

The Truth: What's Really Going On With Apple, Google, AT&T And The FCC - Just one story of many where developers are getting fed up with the Apple ecosystem. The best assessment I've heard was from On the Media (I thought it was from the Aug 14th show, but can't find the reference). They were talking about how closed systems promote censorship. If the internet restricted who could create web pages, and what web content they could create, the on-line landscape would be of much less value. Similarly, when Apple arbitrarily block some applications from its phone while allowing other, they diminish the overall value of the iPhone environment. With the horror stories I've been hearing from developer blogs, I'm quickly becoming an Apple-hater. Bring on the Android!

[ updated 2 Sept 2009 ]

On The Media: The Net's Mid-Life Crisis, August 14, 2009 with Jonathan Zittrain, explaining the chilling effect of centrally controlled technology:

The downside [with the iPhone] is it sets up a new gatekeeper that's going to have its own motives and incentives that are not always the same as the consumers it's supposed to serve.

Somebody submitted an iPhone application to Apple called "Freedom Time." Basically it was a countdown clock for the Bush Administration, and it had the tagline, "Till the end of an error." The author couldn't understand why it was rejected.

Steve Jobs wrote him back when he complained, and said, this is an application that will offend roughly half of our users. What's the point?

Also of note from the same show, if off topic, The Net Effect with Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project:

One of the surprising things we found in that survey was that those who are the most technologically adept and those who are the most engaged with information actually are not in the echo chamber pattern; they are actually seeking out and finding out more arguments opposed to their views than those who are less technologically adept and less interested in political information.

Tweet count is much smaller than it should be - My Twitter count went from ~3000 to 0 after their DDoS. Still not fixed. :-(

posted by sstrader at 2:44 PM in Phones , Science & Technology , Today's reading list | permalink | comments (0)

August 28, 2008

September 6, 2007

Customer relations

This is how it's done. Jobs give $100 store credit to early adopters. People were grumbling, they'd still stick with Apple, but Jobs still makes the move for appeasement and with absolute honesty. Favorite comment from Reddit: WOOT! I can buy a spare battery for my... oh wait.

posted by sstrader at 6:39 PM in Culture & Society | permalink | comments (0)