Blind “Batman”

http://www.vk.tv/video/528037/blinde-batman-ziet-met-tongklikgeluid.html

This video follows a blind man in the Netherlands who navigates his environment by making clicking noises with his mouth.

In the video, Dan Kish talks about how his parents treated him no differently as a child, demanding him to act as a seeing child would. With these expectations Kish developed his own way of compensating for his lack of vision, using the feedback from a clicking noise of his tongue to identify objects around him.

(BTW, The video is mostly in English)

Facebook finally sends proper emails

http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/12/06/facebook-messages-small-change-big-impact/

Facebook are now apparently sending out the full text of emails to its users. Remember my sarky little post about it back in August? I’m one happy bunny now ๐Ÿ™‚
“Suddenly, Facebook messages are actually forwarded to my outside email address, letting me read it and decide if itโ€™s important enough to click on to Facebook and respond”

Facebook seriouly screwed with my email workflow – I’ve been trying to get into routines to manage email, and having to jump through hoops (ie. login/open a browser – particularly difficult on a mobile device) was a serious irritatation.

Anyway, if all this is working as email should there’ll be no more worries.

Funnily enough, as a pre-authentication system of sorts Facebook has the potential to be a fantastic email system – roughly speaking, you have an instant whitelist of fairly trustworthy origin. Much better than regular ol’ email. I would like to write about this separately

Original link from Marc Canter

Facebook ‘Advanced’ Walls

People keep leaving me messages on Facebook. Apparantly they’re trying to get in touch with me using my ‘Advanced Wall’ or ‘Special Wall’ or something like that. As far as I can tell these are add-ons because when I try to read the messages I get a ‘Do you want to install this application’ message?

I really don’t want to install some application to read messages sent to me. Moreover – this implies that my friends are not aware that I can’t read these messages. Are they really sending me messages and happily thinking I might get them?

The daft thing is that computer people have been insisting for years the discipline, “don’t install any application that you don’t trust”. I don’t trust many of these application developers (I don’t know who they are), yet Facebook with its particular architecture not only encourages me to install ‘applications’ to see my messages, it gives them opt-out access to send me emails and (I am presuming here) does not notify my friends that a message being sent to me will not actually be received.

Seriously if somebody writes a rogue application, what is stopping them from siphoning off all sorts of personal information?

Would it be appropriate to message the friend in question and tell them I’m refusing to install this application and, if they really want to they can use my ordinary wall or (forbid the thought) email me…?

The Great Facebook Debate – Sold Out

British Interactive Media Association | Event | The Great Facebook Debate

Darn it. I missed this one in my regular blog reads, and it’s sold out already – by the looks of things quite a while ago too.

Hope they offer another one like this in the UK soon. I’m gearing up to spend more time on ideas and developments with ‘social networking portability’, and will be aiming to build some useful tools shortly. It would be nice to get more in touch with other like-minded people.

Facebook Friends’ Birthday Thingymajig

http://dev.svenlatham.com/friendcal/

Finally, I’ve found a use for Facebook ๐Ÿ™‚ This little tool will take all your friends’ birthdays and create an iCal file from them. The resultant URL can then be put into your favourite calendar program (I use Google Calendar), so you can see all your friends’ birthdays in one place.

This is very basic at the moment and I can’t guarantee it’ll be up and running for long (but I’ll try). It’s also very hacky, so expect nasty errors if something goes wrong!

Please give it a go if you have a Facebook account, and let me know if it works.

After this, FOAF extraction…. ๐Ÿ™‚

Inside-Out 2

Some positive feedback since my earlier post on Inside-Out Social Networking – thanks! In particular the following have been brought to my attention:

  • Data Sharing Summit in California on the 7-8 Sept appears to be addressing just the same issues. I’ll keep an eye on the wiki there.
  • That was kicked off by Marc Canter’s open letter to Social Networks encouraging them to consider opening up the data. He uses the word ‘vendor’ to describe the Social Networks.
  • Marc Canter also operates BroadBandMechanics which is – as far as I can tell – an organisation which specialises in retrofitting social networking to existing sites. They have People Aggregator, a collection of pluggable components that can be brought together with APIs and as widgets, to form the basis of a Social Network system.
  • There’s also a Social Networking Portability Google Group.
  • Armand du Plessis has commented about his site, identitu.de which is an OpenID provider that with XFN information on top, extracted from Facebook. “…but support for other social networks and metadata like hresume exchange are in the pipeline.”
  • Brad Fitzpatrick has written a piece about bringing the ‘social graph’ – a mapping of all social interactions that is currently sat in silos in individual Social Networks – into the community. the goal is to build the guts that allow a thousand new social applications to bloom”.
  • It seems Ning, a network building tool, allows members to export their friends as FOAF. Very cool.

I’m going to try and keep up a collection of resources relating to this subject, althoough it’s well worth keeping an eye on the Data Sharing Summit (above), since most of the work and keen minds seem to be collecting around that at the moment.

Inside-Out Social Networking

My recent tirade against the ubiquitous social networking site Facebook (it is the tenth most popular website in the world) focused on the incessant and irritating way the site forces you to open a browser and log in simply to read an email from their system.

In fact, it’s the deeper issue that concerns me. I really dislike the way Facebook has attempted to reinvent everything I might find useful, and in most cases have already found a perfectly adequate solution elsewhere. Status updates? Twitter is fine. Notes? I have a blog thank you. Photos? I already pay for a Flickr Pro account. The list goes on.

Now, I can’t say all this and not recognise that, in fact, Facebook have done incredibly well. As I said earlier, it’s the 10th most popular website on the Internet. You don’t manage that by being rubbish! I suggest that their popularity is due to two things:

1. Facebook make it easy to start a blog, to add photos, collect your friends in one place, and all the other things you can do.

Twitter, WordPress.com and Flickr are fine, but they’re three separate systems from three companies with three logins and three URLs to remember. In their own ways they’re quite user friendly, but they don’t exist together and you need a certain degree of prior knowledge to know where to look for these services (or even to know that such services exist).

2. Facebook is a club. You’re either in it or you’re not. To be in the club (ie. a member) allows you to participate in events, social banter, see your friends’ photos (or photos of you), and a whole bunch of other things. If you’re not in the club you can’t play – bar a few small exceptions, all these things are excluded from you. If you want any real involvement you have to join.

That’s a clever combination of simple principles that make for a powerful and impressive growth. They’ve made themselves indispensable.ย From the viewpoint of a business trying to increase its membership, this is a wonderful combination and clearly works well for them. The problem is, it comes at the expense of flexibility. What if you don’t like their mail system, if you already have a blog or a photo album elsewhere? Sure, there are applications that offer some compromise, but they’re all still ultimately bound by the rules of Facebook, and are limited to the application’s functionality which may fall far short of what you expect or need. In any case,why reinvent the wheel?

So the real losers are the ones who have already established themselves on the ‘net in some way. They have a Flickr account, or are happy with their existing email thankyouverymuch.

Incidentally, I use Facebook as example only. It may not be the most popular social networking site out there at the moment (according to Alexa, Myspace and Orkut are higher), but it certainly seems to be the hottest social network at the moment. That said, the analysis equally applies to other social networking sites: Myspace, Friendster, Orkut, and myriad others, as well as the wider picture: any site that makes use of personal information in one way or another could potentially be included here.

With all this in mind, I’ve been wondering about solutions. I’m still very much personally developing these ideas, but this feels like the right time to throw some thoughts out into the public for further discussion and to start testing ideas.

I wonder whether the solution comes from an inside-out approach to social networking. Take the user out of the network and create them as their own entity, on their own website. Then, invite the networking tools to connect to the user.

Here’s a better example: I have a personal website – it’s www.svenlatham.com. From here I have a short blurb about myself, a CV, contact information, a link to my blog and a link to my Flickr photos. Every time I sign up for a social networking site, I’m probably going to take each of those bits of information (or parts of them) and add them to each site. What if I could just tell Facebook or LinkedIn, “here, use this URL. Everything about me’s on there”? They use the URL to pick up my details and go from there.

Whenever I change my details, add a photo or blog post, the networking site pulls the update and refreshes its own database accordingly.

For a computer to interpret this data, it must be in a computer-readable form, and in many cases such forms exist. My blog can be retrieved through RSS or Atom, Twitter feeds come via RSS, Flickr photos also come via RSS. Contact details can be grabbed from a vCard. CV details via HR-XML. Friendship/relationship information by XFN or FOAF.

If I really wanted to run that incessant vampire application from Facebook I’m sure they could come up with an XML feed too.

The binding can come from <link> tags, or the <a rel=…> attribute. If needed, a separate file simply documenting the various types of data can be produced.

The social networking sites then simply pick and choose. LinkedIn would like my contact and CV information, but is probably not interested in my stream of photos. Facebook can take everything but the CV. Even sites with peripheral social networking interests can take part – why not have Flickr & Zooomr pick up my list of friends.

With such an architecture in place, the onus is then on service providers to ensure they provide adequate feeds for their services. The emphasis is on standards development, so all the services and networking sites can talk to one another. The byproduct is increased flexibility and choice for the user. Sounds very Web 2.0, doesn’t it!

There would be some important issues that need to be discussed.

How is security applied to this model?

Presumably information that the user publishes is deemed to be available for all and sundry, but many sites apply a security to certain information (e.g. a user’s mobile number might only be available to their friends).

I wonder whether encryption is the key here (pardon the pun): the published information is encrypted. When the user agrees, the decrypt key is sent to the participating social networking site (e.g. “I agree that users of Facebook, Orkut and Friendster who appear in my friends list may see my phone number”), which enforces the security model within its own environment.

Where is the user information hosted?

Not everybody has their own domain name with some personal information on it. Nor are too many people interested in (or capable of) adding a load of metadata to their site.

In this case I wonder what the parallels are (if any) with OpenID. This system is designed to be a decentralised single sign-on system. You pick a URL (e.g. joebloggs.myopenid.com) which becomes your login for participating sites. The OpenID provider then affirms the identity of the user. The traditional username/password (beyond the OpenID provider itself) becomes redundant. It seems a natural extension to join the authentication system to user details – go to joebloggs.myopenid.com and get further information about them (bonus points if the social networking site also used OpenID to identify its users in the first place!)

Admittedly I don’t have too much experience with OpenID, and it attracts a lot of critical comments which will be the subject of continued debate I’m sure.

Failing an OpenID solution, what are the possibilities of having a personal hosted presence elsewhere, on a site purely designed to public this metadata (see below – business incentives).
What’s to stop spammers or identity theft?

If the information you care about is published in ‘public’ on your favourite social networking site, there would seem to be little difference.

What’s the (business) incentive for social networking sites? If you take away the user from the social networking site, what’s left?

Imagine Facebook in this alternative model. Your personal information is managed elsewhere – why would you still use Facebook? Well for one, it’s a very rich environment for running applications. Facebook makes it very easy (are dare I say it – fun) to interact with your friends. Its beauty is that it IS easy to use; to set up accounts, a blog, a photo album. Even if the data is stored elsewhere, Facebook can keep its various applications – it simply publishes the data in a different way.

Let me put it another way. The true value of social networking sites – the bit that makes one better than another – is not so much about the data, it’s about how it USES the data.

Furthermore, why not make Facebook an OpenID (or at least an ‘identity’) provider. They’ve clearly got the tools to encourage people to publish information about themselves. joebloggs.facebook.com is as good a place as any to be publishing this stuff. Then, if I prefer LinkedIn, I can still see Joe Bloggs’ profile and information – it’s exactly the same as if I saw it in Facebook, but the available options might be entirely different. That suits me, because I prefer LinkedIn. It also suits Joe Bloggs, because he’s quite happy managing his profile in Facebook and doesn’t have to recreate himself in LinkedIn.

So, ideas certainly abounds. I’m excited by the idea of a ‘system’ that offers openness at the fundamental data level, but also encourages innovative applications and services on top.

Perhaps I need to be brought down to earth – there might be some critical error in my expectations that prevents this entire system from getting off the ground. I don’t know, but what I am sure of is that in many cases the technology, the underlying standards and data representations are there, and in theory at least this has a lot of potential.

My next step is to attempt to consolidate all of this into a demonstration system, but I invite comments, thoughts and discussion below. If you have a view, please participate!