Private, Mobile Social Network

MIT Technology Review describe a research effort from Microsoft inspired by the increasing privacy concern in the wake of Facebook’s willful marginalizing of their users’ concerns. Contrail stores all of the information destined for sharing encrypted in the cloud. Everything about it is opt-in rather than the increasingly normal policy of being included in new social network features and having to act to be excluded.

The idea of encrypting user data so an operator couldn’t share their data isn’t new. There are even tools to overlay similar functionality on existing networks. As much as I like the concept, I think it may have unobvious sacrifices in terms of foregoing a certain element of serendipity.

Regardless, I am pleased with the continued interest in alternatives to Facebook. A promising, non-research effort in this vein, Diaspora, just released their one month update. The fact that interested developers have yet to see any code is concerning however that the project is forging ahead rather than petering out after the initial attention dissipated is encouraging. I am optimistic in the face of strong interest in providing better choices beyond the current dominant social network.

feeds | grep links > Another Facebook Competitor, Google’s Curation of the Android Market, Conflict Materials in Computers, and More

Sorry for the brevity of comments on these stories from yesterday.  I am trying to quickly catch up.  Most of my reading and blogging time was preempted by the June CopyNight event with Cory Doctorow last night. More on that shortly.

Amazon Granted Patent on Social Networking

I first saw this news on Groklaw.

[PJ: The USPTO and Amazon strike again. Amazon has gotten a patent, No. 7,739,139, on “Social networking system”. Dear US Supreme Court, Please do something before nothing new and innovative can be done by anyone except large companies, because if you don’t help, pretty soon every inch of the Internet will have somebody’s flag on it, and software will only be written by large, well-funded companies. And that blocks a person like Linus Torvalds from being able to create the next Linux, and it harms the one we have. Thank you if you are willing to help. In Re Bilski gives you a wonderful opportunity.]

Mike Masnick expands on the story a bit more, relating it to the initial concern over Friendster acquiring a similar patent. What he explains is that what was granted was a continuation patent for which Amazon applied in 2008. The date of concern, however, stretches back to the late nineties, potentially putting just about all of the networks we know and use at risk.

I am with PJ, I think this is a strong signal to the SCOTUS to step in and at least uphold the machine or transformation test. Give my non-lawyerly ways, it seems to me that would open the way to invalidating this patent. Or at least give purchase to those contesting it by allowing consideration for the question of exactly what this patent transforms and how.

The other question I have is whether Amazon had a choice here. What I mean is, they applied for this patent over a decade ago. Was there some point, and I know this would not have been their thinking, where someone with a clue could have abandoned the patent? Or was it fire and forget, whether they thought better of it later? It is hard to see how Amazon could do anything with this patent without once again uncorking the backlash their notorious 1-click patent did. Maybe for that reason, if someone thought better of it, could they have undone the damage before the continuation was granted?

TCLP 2010-06-13 News

This is news cast 216, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

In the intro, an update on the badge experiment.

This week’s security alerts are diffusing botnet control makes them more robust and bad passwords and the economics around perpetuating them.

In this week’s news open source could make attackers’ jobs easier, understanding the real risks of Android fragmentation, programmers should stop being smart-alecks, and heated atomic force microscopes for 12nm graphene elements.

Following up this week, another social network bill of rights and judge may dismiss most defendants from US Copyright Group suits.


View the detailed show notes online. You can also grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Mozilla’s Experimental Lifestream Application

Sarah Perez at ReadWriteWeb explores a new Mozilla Labs project, sudoSocial. I’ve experimented with running my own instance of a life streaming application before. I installed and ran sweetcron on my server for a time but soon tired of it as it didn’t really help manage all the social data and interactions in which I am constantly awash and adrift.

I have mixed feelings towards life streaming applications. I desperately want better tools for aggregating and publishing my social messaging and as part of that suite capabilities to better own and manage my social identity. Despite some good independent progress, I don’t feel like sudoSocial or any other recent efforts really advance the state of play.

We have an ever increasing number of open standards from OStatus to PuSH and ActivityStreams. There are a lot of open source projects and services that partly cover the space but none that come anywhere close. The missing puzzle piece is the critical interconnection. With the standards in theory it should be very possible. In practice we need a critical mass that simply has developed yet.

I’ll add this one to the potential list, along with Raindrop, to watch for future development. I am not optimistic but am at a loss as to what might help spark better convergence amongst these different pieces-parts and most critically with the very popular, mostly closed services all the non-techies are using, forming a vast social anchor of combinatorially large dimension.

feeds | grep links > Diaspora is Funded, Single Molecule Computes at Insane Speed, MPEG 7 Will Make Content ID Easier, and Plans for Firefox 4

  • Diaspora reaches its KickStarter funding goal
    Over the weekend the open source, distributed social network project, Diaspora, reached its funding goal of $10K. The four founders won’t start work for a bit yet as they need to finish finals, graduate, and then spend a couple of weeks preparing for a three month coding marathon.
  • Single molecule shown to computer thousands of times faster than a PC
    As Popular Science explains, this is a specific and limited demonstration computing a Fourier transform at an amazing clip. It is difficult to predict if this speed will apply to more generalized apparatus or the more practical interfaces we’ll need to harness this or any other form of quantum computing.
  • New video standard will have content identification built in
    From big content’s view, what Slashdot describes for Mpeg 7 makes sense. It would directly solve the problems with filtering existing video on YouTube and other sites. For the rest of us, it is another reason to push hard on open and unencumbered standards for video sharing online, like Ogg Theora and Google’s newly opened VP-8.
  • Mozilla’s plans for Firefox 4
    Frederic Lardinois at RWW has the details of a roadmap announcement from Mozilla. I am very glad to see they are far from conceding the browser speed race to Chrome. I can’t wait until we start seeing some early access builds demonstrating the key elements of this plan.

Diaspora Proposal: Open Source, Distributed Social Network

I’ve seen a couple of people link to this, including EFF. Diaspora proposes to build a distributed, open source social network following a model that is very similar to WordPress and StatusNet. In fact the project, which is seeking funding with their proposal on KickStarter, makes an explicit reference to running a hosted service exactly like I am a big fan of both of these existing projects for the fact that they provide both the open software for those with the means and inclination to run their own instance and a service for anyone else who trusts them to do that heavy lifting. Further, StatusNet is one of the most prominent projects using the AGPL, so it is the very definition of a high value, free as in freedom web service.

Diaspora will also be released, as it happens, under the AGPL so no one running an instance can make any of their improvements proprietary. More importantly, no one can use any modifications that would be hidden from scrutiny, changes that might threaten the security and trust the project is trying to build.

Each user will be able to host their own server, or seed, and all the end points will be able to share data securely, leveraging strong open source encryption, Gnu Privacy Guard. The core idea is to put identity and discretion in who to trust back in the hands of the user. I am all for this idea, even if it doesn’t gain as much traction as the existing proprietary systems, it at least gives us a choice. My experience of the community at, the original hosted StatusNet instance, makes me optimistic as the people on such open services tend to be much more dedicated to the underlying principles.

I will also be curious to see how Diaspora will compete with Facebook and others. StatusNet has played a very cagey game with Twitter compatibility that seems to be paying off. If Diaspora can interoperate with the applications people use with Facebook and keep the migration cost low, that could prove key. Facebook’s privacy depredations could fuel interest in Diaspora the same way Twitter’s early outages drove folks to alternatives, including StatusNet.

It is unclear if the team, four students in New York, will continue on some scaled down version of the project without funding. Right now, with just over thirty days to their funding goal, they are over halfway there. I pledged support, it is risk free (other than registering for yet another site). If they don’t reach their goal, none of the pledges are charged. Given the potential gain, it seemed worth it.

The Open Web and Facebook, So Long 3.5″ Floppies, Jobs Skewers Mac App Store Rumor and Schumer Sicks FTC on Social Networks

  • Why new APIs from Facebook may be good for the open web
    I am deeply skeptical but respect David Recordon’s work, the port of it with which I am familiar that also predates his move to Facebook. I appreciate the further details on the Open Graph protocol that Recordon shares at O’Reilly Radar but will reserve judgment. It remains to be seen how this spec is going to play out in the real world, just like an new open spec.
  • Last gasp of the 3.5″ floppy disk
    Chris Foreman at Ars Technica explains that Sony, one of the last companies to manufacture the ancient disks and drives will be spinning down their production of them. I honestly didn’t even know anyone was still making them although I know from first hand experience how such technologies abide in embedded and machine control systems.
  • Jobs debunks Mac app store rumor
    The Register has the authoritative response from Apple’s chief to this troubling rumor. By the time I saw this over the weekend, it had already been pretty strongly discredited. It feeds into many of the worst fears of Apple critics so easy to understand how it spread.
  • Senator Schumer to task FTC with police privacy disclosures from social networks
    Xeni at Boing Boing has the details and links to further analysis and the press release from the Senator’s office. This seems pretty well targeted to disclosures, I think a sane response. That is as opposed to the new Cyber Privacy Act which I have tagged to discuss in this week’s news cast.