Post P2P

Invitation systems and the Federated Social Web

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

Notes prompted by a conversation, but not in direct response to anything therein.

I have not seen obvious for web sites used much recently, but that could be me not looking for web applications to try. I note three three overlapping purposes when they are used:

  • Promotion. The entity that has set up the invitation system hopes for viral spam; some people have a strongly negative reaction to invitation systems as a result.
  • Rationing. For example, to keep a system usable while resources added.
  • Exclusivity. For purposes regarded as wrong for non-state actors (e.g. discrimination based on birth location) to the suspicious (supposed cabals) to the practical (privacy, working group size, keep out bad actors).

My impression is that at the web site/application level, invitations are used mostly for promotion, a little for rationing, rarely for exclusivity. But invitations are ubiquitous in human interactions, and it seems to me that exclusivity is their main purpose (though I’m ignoring many communications and social purposes independent of the three mentioned; e.g., in some situations a polite communication takes the form of an invitation). One doesn’t even need to step away from “social network” web applications to see this, just into the applications — consider “connection requests” and similar actions among users.

Invitations could be a useful part of the federated social web mix, as the challenges faced by federated sites are at least a little different than those faced by silos in all three of the aforementioned areas, but especially with regard to exclusivity. Consider that bad actors can set up their own federated sites, and that federated sites often represent single users or small communities — roughly requiring the same functionality of a community or individual user of a silo, including the functionalities of the entire silo.

Also, just remembered On The Invitation, a chapter from Collaborative Futures.

Us Autonomo!

Monday, July 14th, 2008 and the Franklin Street Statement on Freedom and Network Services launched today.

I’ve written about the subject of this group and statement a number of times on this blog, starting with Constitutionally Open Services two years ago. I think that post holds up pretty well. Here were my tentative recommendations:

So what can be done to make the web application dominated future open source in spirit, for lack of a better term?

First, web applications should be super easy to manage (install, upgrade, customize, secure, backup) so that running your own is a real option. Applications like and have made large strides, especially in the installation department, but still require a lot of work and knowledge to run effectively.

There are some applications that centralizaton makes tractable or at least easier and better, e.g., web scale search, social aggregation — which basically come down to high bandwidth, low latency data transfer. Various P2P technologies (much to learn from, field wide open) can help somewhat, but the pull of centralization is very strong.

In cases were one accepts a centralized web application, should one demand that application be somehow constitutionally open? Some possible criteria:

  • All source code for the running service should be published under an open source license and developer source control available for public viewing.
  • All private data available for on-demand export in standard formats.
  • All collaboratively created data available under an open license (e.g., one from Creative Commons), again in standard formats.
  • In some cases, I am not sure how rare, the final mission of the organization running the service should be to provide the service rather than to make a financial profit, i.e., beholden to users and volunteers, not investors and employees. Maybe. Would I be less sanguine about the long term prospects of Wikipedia if it were for-profit? I don’t know of evidence for or against this feeling.

Consider all of this ignorant speculation. Yes, I’m just angling for more freedom lunches.

I was honored to participate in a summit called by the Free Software Foundation to discuss these issues March of this year, along with far greater thinkers and doers. and the Franklin Street Statement (named for the FSF’s office address) are the result of continued work among the summit participants, not yet endorsed by the FSF (nor by any other organization). Essentially everything I conjectured above made it into the statement (not due to me, they are fairly obvious points, at least as of 2008, and others made them long before) with the exception of making deployment easier, which is mundane, and service governance issues, which the group did discuss, but inconclusively.

There’s much more to say about this, but for now (and likely for some time, at the rate I write, though this activity did directly inspire me to propose speaking at an upcoming P2P industry summit, which I will early next month–I’m also speaking tomorrow at BALUG and will mention briefly–see info on both engagements) I wanted to address two immediate and fairly obvious critiques.

Brian Rowe wrote:

“Where it is possible, they should use Free Software equivalents that run on their own computer.” This is near Luddite talk… It is almost always possible to use an app on your own comp, but it is so inefficient. Networked online apps are not inherently evil, should you back up your work
offline, yes. Should you have alternative options and data portability, yes. You should fight to impove them. But you should not avoid them like the plauge.

The statement doesn’t advocate avoiding network services–see “Where it is possible”, and most of the statement concerns how network services can be free. However, it is easy to read the sentence Rowe quoted and see Luddism. I hope that to some it instead serves as a challenge, for:

  • Applications that run on your own computer can be networked, i.e., P2P.
  • Your own computer does not only include your laptop and home server, but any hardware you control, and I think that should often include virtual hardware.

Wes Felter wrote:

I see a lot about software licensing and not much about identity and privacy. I guess when all you have is the AGPL everything looks like a licensing problem.

True enough, but lots of people are working on identity and privacy. If the FSF doesn’t work on addressing the threats to freedom as in free software posed by network services, it isn’t clear who would. And I’d suggest that any success free software has in the network services world will have beneficial effects on identity and privacy for users–unless you think these are best served by identity silos and security through obscurity.

Finally, the FSF is an explicitly ideological organization (I believe mostly for the greater good), so the statement (although not yet endorsed by the FSF, I believe all participants are probably FSF members, staff, or directors) language reflect that. However, I suspect by far the most important work to be done to maintain software freedom is technical and pragmatic, for example writing P2P applications, making sharing modified source of network applications a natural part of deployment (greatly eased by the rise of distributed version control), and convincing users and service providers that it is in their interest to expect and provide free/open network services.

I suggest going on to read Evan Prodromou (the doer above) on and the Franklin Street Statement and Rufus Pollock on the Open Software Service Definition, which more or less says the same thing as the FSS in the language of a definition (and using the word open), coordinated to launch at the same time.

Table selection, HSA, LugRadio, Music, Photographers, New Media

Monday, April 21st, 2008

A few observations and things learned from the last eight days.

Go to a page with a table, for example this one (sorry, semi-nsfw). Hold down the control key and select cells. How could I not have known about this!? Unfortunately, copy & paste seems to produce tab separated values in a single row even when pasting from mutliple rows in the HTML table (tried with Firefox and Epiphany). Still really useful when you only want to copy one column of a table, but if you want all of the columns, don’t hold down the control key and row boundaries get newlines as they should rather than tabs. (Thanks Asheesh.)

I feel really stupid about this one. I’ve assumed that a (US) was a spend within the year or lose your contributions arrangement, but that’s what a Flexible Spending Account is (I have no predictable medical expenses, so such an account makes no sense for me). A HSA is an investment account much like an IRA, except you can spend from it without penalty upon incurring medical expenses rather than old age. You can only contribute to a HSA while enrolled in a high deductible health insurance plan, which I’ll try to switch to next year. (Thanks Ahrash.)

I saw a few presentations at LugRadio Live USA, in addition to giving one. Miguel de Icaza’s on (content roughly corresponding to this post) and Ian Murdock’s on were both in part about software packaging. Taken together, they make a good case for open source facilitating cross polination of ideas and code across operating system platforms.

Aaron Bockover and Gabriel Burt did a presentation/demo on , showing off some cool track selection/playlist features and talking about more coming. I may have to try switching back to Banshee as my main audio player (from Rhythmbox, with occasional use of Songbird for web-heavy listening or checking on how the program is coming along). Banshee runs on Mono, and both are funded by Novell, which also (though I don’t know how their overall investment compares) has an .

John Buckman gave an entertaining talk on open source and open content (including the slide at right). My talk probably was not entertaining at all, but used the question ‘how far behind [free/open source software] is free/open culture?’ to string together selected observations about the field.

Benjamin Mako Hill did a presentation on Revealing Errors (meant both ways). I found myself wanting to be skeptical of the power of technical errors to expose political/power relationships, but I imagine the concept could use a little hype — there’s definitely something there. The talk made me more sensitive to errors in any case. For example, when I transferred funds from a money market account to checking to pay taxes, an email notice included this (emphasis in original):

Your confirmation number is 0.

Zero? Really? The transaction did go through.

Tuesday I attended the Media Web Meetup V: The Gulf Between NorCal and SoCal, is it so big?, the idea being (in this context pushed by Songbird founder Rob Lord; I presented at the first Media Web Meetup and have attended a few others) that in Northern California entrepreneurs are trying to build new services around music, nearly all stymied by protectionist copyright holders in Southern California. I really did not need to listen to yet another panel asking how the heck is the music recording distribution industry going to use technology to make money, but this was a pretty good one as those go. One of the panelists kept urging technologists to “fix [music] metadata” as if doing so were the key to enabling profit from digital music. I suppressed the urge to sound a skeptical note, as investing more in metadata is one of the least harmful things the industry might do. Not that I don’t think metadata is great or anything.

Thursday evening I was on a ‘Copyright 2.0’ panel put on by the American Society of Media Photographers Northern California. I thought my photo selection for my first slide was pretty clever. No, copyright expansion is not always good for the interests of professional photographers. The other panelists and the audience were actually more open minded (both meanings) than I expected, and certainly realistic. The photographer on the panel even stated the obvious (my paraphrase from memory): new technology has allowed lots of people to explore their photographry talents who would otherwise have been unable to, and maybe some professional photographers just aren’t that good and should find other work. My main takeway from the panel is that it is very difficult for an independent photographer to successfully pursue unauthorized users in court. With the sometime exception of one, the other panelists all strongly advised photographers to avoid going to court except as a last resort, and even then, first doing a rational calculation of what the effort is likely to cost and gain. The best advice was probably to try to turn unauthorized users into clients.

Friday evening I went to San Jose to be on a panel about New Media Artists and the Law. Unlike Thursday’s panel, this one was mostly about how to use and re-use rather than how to prevent use. This (and some nostalgia) made me miss living in Silicon Valley — I lived in Sunnyvale two years (2003-2005) and San Jose (2005-2006) before moving back to San Francisco. Nothing really new came up, but I did enjoy the enthusiasm of the other panelists and the audience (as I did the previous day).

Staturday I went to Ubuntu Restaurant in Napa, which apparently does vegetable cuisine but does not market itself as vegetarian. I think that’s a good idea. The food was pretty good.

I’ve been listening to Hazard Records 59 and 60: Calida Construccio by various and Unhazardous Songs by Xmarx. Lovely Hell (mp3) from the latter is rather poppy.

MIN US$750k for NIN

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

The $300 “ultra deluxe edition” of , limited to 2500 copies, sold out in a couple days (I believe released Sunday, no longer available this morning). There are some manufacturing costs, but they don’t appear to be using any precious materials. So if an artist typically makes $1.60 on a $15.99 CD sale, profit from sales of the limited edition already matches profit from a CD selling hundreds of thousands of copies.

Then there are non-limited sales of a $75 merely “deluxe edition”, $10 CD, and $5 download, and whatever other products NIN comes up with around Ghosts.

The ultra deluxe success seems to me to validate the encouragement by some to pursue large revenue from rabid fans and collectors willing and able to pay for personalization, authenticity, embodiment, etc., rather than attempting to suppress zero cost distribution to the masses.

Speaking of distribution, click on the magnet to search for a fully legal P2P download of Ghosts, assuming you have the right filesharing software installed. (283.7 MB)


Monday, February 18th, 2008

There are a number of fun things about a sketch of Uberfact: the ultimate social verifier. The first is that the post could be written without mentioning . The second is that the proposed project is a nice would-be example of political desires sublimated entirely into creating useful and voluntary tools. Third, Mencius Moldbug is a fun writer.

Something like Uberfact should absolutely be built, though I’m far from certain it would hit a sweet spot. It may be too decentralized or too centralized or both. All points from enhancing Wikipedia to the Semantic Web (with Uberfact somewhere between) are complementary and well worth pursuing, particularly if that pursuit displaces malinvestment in politics.

Relatedly, but no time to explain why:

Wikileaks flows

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

A year ago I mentioned Wikileaks, with some skepticism:

Wikileaks, currently vapor, may be a joke. If Wikileaks is not a joke and if it successfully exposes a large number of secrets, I’d find it hilarious to see this happening on a public website and without financial incentives. P2P, digital cash, information markets, and crypto anarchy? Nope, just a wiki and a communinty.

With each new item I read about Wikileaks, usually via Slashdot, my skepticism wanes and hilarity waxes. Bully for Wikileaks, the Wikileaks community, dissidents and transparency worldwide.

Read the and Wikileaks:About on Wikileaks, available securely and via many front domains.

Of course Wikileaks is blocked in China, which gives them some cred in my opinion (but note the measurement described in that post doesn’t seem to work anymore — from within the U.S. it appears and now give identical results).

In one recent item cited on Slashdot, a copyright claim is being used to attempt to censor Wikileaks. How unsurprising.


Saturday, December 29th, 2007

I’ve written about Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking twice. Watch a five minute video illustrating his ideas.

Side notes possibly only of interest to me: The interviewer is , founder of LimeWire, and the video is under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.

Unlike recorded music, parking is a good. At first approximation, recorded music should be free and parking very expensive. Of course policy is typically backwards.

Via Urban Planning Research.

Blog search putrefying

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

I’ve complained before here that blog search stinks and isn’t getting better. Now I know why — in addition to blog search being a difficult and expensive service to run — there isn’t much demand. The blog search focused sites I mentioned in the “stinks” post each seem to have gained no traction since then, excepting Technorati, which itself is constantly rumored to be troubled.

A TechCrunch post on traffic at various Google properties finally gave me a clue and an inclination to look at my past posts on blog search. Click through to see a graph showing that Google Blog Search barely registers.

To end on a positive note, perhaps blog search is a good use case for , as it isn’t economic for a centralized entity to do well. This reminds me, whatever happened to various ?

Only tangentially related to blog search, I really like Chris F. Masse’s post on blogs vs. newspapers, in which Wikipedia sits at the top of the ecosystem:

So the real winner is Wikipedia — a news and knowledge aggregator… using anonymous volunteers. But Wikipedia is only an information aggregator… it feeds on both media and blogs to gather the facts. Wikipedia is the common denominator of knowledge —not the primary source of reporting. Just like prediction markets feed on polls and other advanced indicators.

LimeWire popularity

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

I continue to be intrigued by ‘s huge and relatively unsung popularity. According to a December 13 release:

More than one-third of all PCs worldwide now have LimeWire installed, according to data jointly released by Digital Music News and media tracking specialist BigChampagne. The discovery is part of a steady ascent for LimeWire, easily the front-running P2P application and the target of a multi-year Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) lawsuit. For the third quarter of this year, LimeWire was found on 36.4% of all PCs, a figure gleaned from a global canvass of roughly 1.66 million desktops.

The installation share is impressive, and unrivaled. But growth has actually been modest over the past year. LimeWire enjoyed a penetration level of 34.1% at the same point last year, a difference of merely 2.3%.

These figures don’t jibe with those supposedly from the same parties from earlier this year, which found LimeWire installed on 18.63% of desktops. A writer on TorrentFreak who has presumably seen the more recent report (US$295, apparently including the requisite section titled “LimeWire Challenged by…Google?”) says:

From the data where the report is based on we further learn that Limewire’s popularity is slowly declining. However, with an install base of almost 18% it is still the P2P application that is installed on most desktop computers. Unfortunately Digital Music News has trouble interpreting their own data, they claim in their press release that it is 36.4%, but that is the market share compared to other P2P clients (shame on you!).

In other open source filesharing application news, made its first release in over two years on December 1.

Via Slyck.

The major political issue of today?

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

The incredibly productive Kragen Sitaker, in Exegesis of “Re: [FoRK] Calling [redacted] and all the ships at sea.”:

The major political issue of today [0] is that music distribution companies based on obsolete physical-media-distribution models (“record labels”) are trying to force owners of new distribution mechanisms, mostly built on the internet, to pay them for the privilege of competing with them; the musical group “The Grateful Dead” used to permit their fans to distribute their music by making copies of taped performances, and most of the money the Dead made came from these performances; it is traditional for performances not to send any revenue to the record label. Long compares the record labels to buggy-whip manufacturers, who are the standard historical symbol for companies who went out of business because of technological change.

This clearly relates to the passage the footnote is attached to, which is about the parallel between Adam Smith’s economic “invisible hand” and the somewhat more visible hand that wrote the king’s doom on the wall in Daniel; in this case, the invisible hand has written the doom of the record companies on the wall, and their tears will not wash out a word of it. What this has to do with Huckleberry Finn’s prohibition on seeking symbolism or morals in the book, I don’t know, although clearly Huckleberry Finn’s prohibition relates to mortals hiding messages in texts.

[0] Yes, this means I think this is more important than the struggle over energy, or the International Criminal Court, or global warming, or nuclear proliferation — the issue is whether people should be permitted to control the machines they use to communicate with one another, in short, whether private ownership of 21st-century printing presses should be permitted. (Sorry my politics intrude into this message, but I thought “the major political issue of today” required some justification, but needs to be there to explain the context to people reading this message who don’t know about it.)

That will probably seem a pretty incredible claim, but I often agree, and think Sitaker understates the case. Music distribution companies are only one of the forces for control and censorship. The long term issue is bigger than whether private ownership of 21st-century printing presses should be permitted. The issue is whether individuals of the later 21st-century will have self-ownership.