Archive for November, 2007

The irony of privacy

November 30, 2007

There has been a lot of buzz about privacy issues on Facebook recently. The new Beacon platform ruined the joy of Christmas surprises for many people and the privacy groups are gaining a momentum with critique of the platform to a degree where the company is actually forced to change its business model. Ironically, Mark Zuckerberg experienced some if this himself. Well, not really, but in an indirect way. Kara Swisher just blogged about the story where some private information about Zuckerberg got released to the web and the reaction of FB.

I found it interesting.


Internet and US election

November 29, 2007

As we are nearing to launching beta testing of the WikiCandidate project, i start paying more attention to the coverage of the role of internet in the upcoming US presidential election. Interestingly, technology and politics are frequently associated with youth. Here is an example. This post is telling a story of Facebook overtaking MySpace in web traffic and immediately following it is a story about partnership between Facebook and MySpace aimed at targeting the US young voters (both appearing on the same blog).


Nigeria and OX

November 28, 2007

Just a small buzz from the blogosphere.  In the reader today i got two posts featuring both Nigeria and XO.

The first post, from OLPC-news, is telling a story of US-based Nigerian-owned company suing OLPC for supposedly patent infringement of their multilingual keyboard technology.  The other, from tech.blorge, is telling a story of a drastic change in attitude of Nigerian government to OLPC initiative (from intentions of buying a million laptops, to complete rejection of the basic idea of the program).

None of these is shocking news, but nevertheless i found the coincidence intriguing.

Living with Wikipedia

November 27, 2007

Thanks to Eszter for posting a link to this article.

The article is about schools officials’ antagonism towards Wikipedia. According to it, the teachers are so dissatisfied with students using Wikipedia, that they simply forbid it, or more so, block it on school computers. They argue against inaccuracies in the online encyclopedia and against students’ blind reliance on this source.

This is not a new claim, however it hits the nerve again and again. Of course Wikipedia is not perfect and there are probably cases of inaccuracy even in the major articles. But it is there, it is not that bad, and it is easily accessible. So, the question is what would be the best way to deal with it? Is shutting off Wikipedia the best solution?

Living the accuracy argument for a different post, I would like to focus on the use. One of the arguments cited in the article is that students use Wikipedia because it is easy to do so. This claim is portrayed in a negative light, drawing a short direct line between “easy” and “low quality”, or just “not good enough”. However, it seems to me that shutting Wikipedia off the schools follows the same trajectory – it is easy and it is not good enough. At the end of the day it’s not Wikipedia’s fault that students unquestionably rely on it and demonstrate zero criticism to materials they retrieve online. It is actually the responsibility of the educators to equip those students with tools for critical thinking and to teach them appropriate use of Wikipedia or any other online (and actually also offline) resource.

Banning Wikipedia or blaming it for students’ inadequate performance is like blaming the car for car accidents. It’s only means, only technological tool, and we are those putting meaning into it through the ways we use it. People are getting injured and even killed in car accidents, but nobody offers to ban cars from the society. Instead, we invest a lot of money in educating people for the correct use of the car and the correct behavior on street. Why is the attitude towards new media in education so radically different?

It seems to me that media literacy skills are very important factor here. On the one hand we see educators revolting against technology, as this article illustrates. On the other hand we see some “interesting” requests from fresh college students, who seem to move to another extreme of denying anything the traditional education system has to offer. Isn’t it possible that the “golden pass lays somewhere in between? Isn’t it possible that with adequate media literacy training (first of the teachers and then the students) we would be able (1) incorporate the strength of traditional education in new media environment and (2) foster more critical (and as a result more personally and socially beneficial) use of new media by the younger generation?

In any case, it seems that the responsibility to take the lead is on the educator and I wonder if that is a generation gap and if the younger teachers will be more media-responsible and technology-open?

What do you think?

Skype IS loosing it

November 26, 2007

Seems like i am not the only one to observe Skype loosing it.

Update: Nov. 27

And here is a timely article summarizing some alternatives to Skype: Jajah, Jaxtr and Jangle.


November 26, 2007

A few days ago I mentioned Middle East Youth (MEY) network website. Now there is also an online video channel. It seems to be still in kind of a beta phase, but it will be interesting to see how it evolves. Great work guys!

Even more on XO as an eBook

November 25, 2007

I feel like I should start apologizing for the amount of posts dealing with this issue :)

However, just today the OLPC-news blog posted a video of the Internet Archive project endorsing XO as an eBook reader.  I don’t think the timing of their post is random, but it definitely helps to clarify the point I was trying to make in the last two posts.

More on Kindle and OX

November 24, 2007

Yesterday I tried to make an argument in favor of spending $400 on XO laptop and not on Kindel. Of course it was a little bit like comparing apples to oranges, but the resemblance in price and the difference of underlying philosophies are so triking, that I thought such a comparison was timely. Today, however, I would like to use this example to think about innovation and synergy in the industry.

As I wrote yesterday, I find it difficult to grasp the “revolutionary” part of Jeff Bezos’ creation. I think we can break it down to two main aspects – technical solutions and processes. In terms of technical solutions, there is not much new in Kindle. It is using the same eInk technology utilized by Sony Reader and other competitors, introduces a few debatable user interface solutions, and forces rather annoying, but working, requirement to convert everything to the Amazon format. Actually, as the largest online book retailer, Amazon is in position where it can impose a certain format, particularly when it also introduces new models for independent book publishing.

This in fact leads us to the second aspect, which is the process. The process is probably the greatest innovation of Kindle, or paraphrasing Bezos “Kindle is not a product, it’s a service”. However it is not a process aimed at improving the reading experience, but a process aimed at improving the experience of buying books. Here, Kindle is definitely doing a great job and introduces a platform, sole use of which is efficient and convenient purchase of electronic books. Together with other people on Amazon’s discussion pages, i am skeptical how much an emphasis on impulsive purchase can be the key in “Kindle revolution”. However in any case the change is focusing on the consumption part of book experience, and not on the reading process (not to mention the creativity aspects that are limited through draconian implementation of DRM).

This brings me back to the question of innovation and OX. Unlike Kindle, and with all the well-deserved criticism, OX represents a product that is innovative both in its concept and in its technological solutions. As a concept, XO is an open platform suited for users’ innovation and sharing. The conscious decision of Negroponte and his team to use open source software has not only cost repercussions, but also less tangible and more long-term oriented impacts on the culture that will evolve among users of OX open systems. Some bloggers suggested that Kindle’s main audience are the youth and the problem of declining readership among them. However, the question is if Kindle is the right device for that educational goal. I keep on referring to Larry Lessing’s talk at TED about DRM, copyright, and locking out of creativity, as well as . It seems to me that XO is a better tool in this sense, not to mention that it is by default more accessible (in terms of price) and more usable holistically speaking (especially about education).

From the point of view of technological innovation, XO is taking a lead here again. Starting from the ability to pack all this functionality in $200, to specific solutions such as the display that can be viewed at direct sunlight, to a particularly strong build that allows the laptop to remain safe even when dropped. Today we can already see attempts to use the XO innovative solution for development of new devices for commercial use in the rich countries, which, in turn, keeps me (and also others) wondering why Amazon insisted on re-inventing the wheel, doing a rather poor job with it, instead of synergizing with others and building meaningful technology technology that can bring change? Continuing my criticism of OLPC a couple of months ago, Kindle seems like really missed opportunity to build a meaningful technology suitable for many, if not to say for all. They could do things differently, but for some reason kept on thinking inside the box.

I think the last point is related to issues of perceptions of technology by Bezos and his crew. Probably even not the technology per se, but the perceived users and, more broadly, Bozes’ personal vision of the future (but these points are for a separate post).

At this point, i would like to repeat the mantra that keeps on returning on this blog for a couple of days already – if you are to spend $400 on a gadget in the next month and half, consider participating in OLPC’s “give 1, get 1” program. This way you can get a cool gadget and also contribute another one to a kid in a developing country. And i am not the only one thinking so anymore.

Kindle vs. OX

November 23, 2007

If you were looking for a new gadget to get this holiday season and were ready to spend, let say, $400, what would you get a Kindle from Amazon or OX from the OLPC program? I’d like to argue for the second option. If you are to spend $400, I think it makes more sense to spend it on the OX computer and I will try to explain why.

I feel a little bit overwhelmed by the massive marketing machine Amazon put in place to push its new device. For me it started from some random news reports a while ago, moved into a massive and uber-optimistic article in Newsweek, and continued with this thing stuck on every corner of Amazon website and some flashbacks in the blogosphere. Frankly, i still cannot understand what is so revolutionary about this device.

Of course there are some neat solutions in Kindle. Although it is not really new, the use of ePaper sounds promising for the ease of reading from screen. The fact that you can quickly buy a book and have a copy of it stored at Amazon in case you loose the device, also sounds nice (though the dependency on Amazon’s eternal existence is a bit scary and i doubt the dominance of impulsive online purchase when it comes to books, but I may be wrong with the last point). The ability to have many books on a single device is also appealing as well as the idea of semi-dynamic content (i.e. subscription to newspapers and magazines to be delivered directly to your Kindle). So far, it all is nice, but nothing is really innovative. On the innovative side, I think the wireless solution they have is interesting (only I didn’t figure out how much you have to pay for the air time) and the fact that people can sell their own writing in a form of eBook sounds really great.

At the same, I still don’t understand why one would like a separate device just for reading books? Are you suggesting that today I need a laptop, a mobile phone, a PDA, and now also Kindle? Each one as a separate device? Why? Then, the format issue and the fact that you have to transfer all your eBooks to Amazon format seems to me as extremely annoying. Unless Amazon format will become the standard, such as PDF today, there is no logical explanation from a consumer point of view. However more important is the digital rights management (DRM) implemented in the device, thus taking from a user any ability to share, give, or recreate with the book they are buying from Amazon (for that matter you might want to watch a great lecture by Larry Lessig given at TED). This last part is completely frustrating and if anything, i think this may be the killer of Amazon format.

Now, if you look at XO, for the same $400 you are getting a laptop with quite advanced abilities. Starting with the con’s one could probably point at the size of the laptop (242mm × 228mm × 32mm) and its weight (about 1.5kg or 3.2 lb and up). However this would be the only disadvantage for someone who is counting on it as primarily a reading device. If we consider the main strength of Kindle for example, i.e. its screen, XO offers a similar experience (although it isn’t using eInk) as well as a color option. In addition to a great screen, you would get an open system with all the functionality of a laptop including WiFi capabilities, option to use PDFs, and actually have control over your music files, meaning that you can listen to audio-books from anywhere, not just Amazon (you can find the complete specs of XO here). I think these were the main points of complain against Kindle, something that together with the price tag drove its ratings on Amazon to 2.5 stars only. In addition you would get a durable build and a very long battery life together with a series of alternative energy solutions.

However this is not all.

One of the top reasons why I think you should consider XO (and not Kindle) for your $400 is not the fact that you are getting a better product for the same money for yourself, but the fact that by buying one, you are automatically contribute another one to a kid in developing country. In fact, the XO laptop costs only $200 and the rest of what you pay is a (tax deductible in the US) donation, which is going to sponsor the second laptop for that child in a village in Africa or elsewhere in the world. According to the recent updates the XO laptops are in demand and have been bought at a rate of ~5K a day since the beginning of “give 1, get 1” less than 2 weeks ago. Moreover, yesterday OLPC announced that they are extending the “give 1, get 1” until December 31st. So, there is now even more time to think and make the best use of your $400.

UN 2.0

November 23, 2007

Just read about the World Food Program (WFP) utilizing YouTube to create viral campaign about global hunger issue. Sounds as an interesting and innovative approach on behalf of UN. At the same time, you can still see the struggle between UN 1.0 that has the need to control the process entirely, and UN 2.0 that is trying to use new media and its distributed nature. As I understand this, unlike other initiatives (such as the presidential debates for example), in this case you are submitting the videos to WFP, they choose the top 5 from their perspective, and only then the finalists are released to YouTube for everybody to watch and judge.

I understand the need of UN to make sure that nothing inappropriate is going under their name and the need to promote certain messages/values within this context. However, If my understanding of the process is correct, i think this approach is taking away from the same viral strength of hosting such competition on YouTube. By applying the top-down monitoring of the process and taking away the ability to participate in judgment of the videos from the very beginning, I think the organizers will seriously limit people’s investment in the project and thus its potential impact. Of course those who will create the videos will stay tuned, but i would assume that they are a minority of YouTube users. Most people watch and not create. So taking them out at the very beginning may prove itself counterproductive. But we will have to wait and see. In any case it seems like an interesting step on behalf of UN.