Wednesday, May 30, 2007 - yours for £140m, squire....

Woah - the Web 2.0 buyout bubble comes to Shoreditch, with our near 'n' dear neighbours announcing today that they've been bought out by none other than CBS for the eye-watering, pant-moistening, gast-flabbering sum of £140 million.

Congratulations guys! And there we were thinking these kind of deals only happened in California... GIT'chaw web 2 businesses 'ere, mate, get'em while they're hot...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Anti-Social Social Software - How far is Too Far?

The social software revolution has been, more or less, about openness. Transparency and freedom have been the order of the day. "Information wants to be free!" goes the mantra, and by and large it's hard to argue against it. All kinds of information that has always been publically available is becoming gathered together, cross referenced and made searchable by the new wave of social software mashups and visualisations, and those who expressed doubt or indignation about this approach have been dismissed as relics of a bygone era, who "just don't get it".

(I'm including myself in this, by the way. Trampoline's Enron Explorer is a perfect case in point. The information was already public domain, and we weren't even the first to visualise it - we just put a Web 2.0 face on it, and got lucky with the timing.)

But now and again there comes an application of this philosophy that makes me wonder how far is too far? Enter the charmingly named

According to the New York Times:

The site was started by Sean Bucci in 2004, after he was indicted in federal court in Boston on marijuana charges based on information from an informant.

Initially free, it now charges charges between $7.99 for a week and $89.99 for life. You don't have to be as cynical as me to take a guess as to the kind of people who will happily pay to see names and mugshots of the 4,300 informers and 400 undercover agents that the site says it has identified.

So is this too far?
Is it possible to define a clear moral line between a "good" use of public-domain data and "bad" ? Even if it is possible, should we?
Should some usages be permitted but not others? How do we tell the difference?

What is it that actually makes me uneasy about this?

The trouble is that any time you actually try to define what's acceptable and what isn't, in clear unambiguous language, you can always find a counter-example that destroys your mental partitioning of the world and means you have to start again.

The only way I can put my finger on what bothers me about the site is to refer to the intent behind it. Where the intent behind a mashup like Chicago Crime could reasonably be argued to be beneficial to society in some way, Who's A Rat is clearly not.

But even that definition is full of ambiguity. Who's A Rat may well be of immense benefit to certain segments of society (Hal Helms' "Vinny" persona, for one) and Chicago Crime could be argued to be detrimental to, say, property owners in high-crime areas who are looking to sell.

I guess the hoary old cliche applies just as much to information as to people : with great freedom comes great responsibility. We can't on the one hand argue that information needs to be free, yet on the other hand argue that it can only be free for usages that we like. Either the information is out there or it isn't, and I guess that if we want to gain the benefits of information freedom, we have to be prepared to tolerate the drawbacks.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Come Back XP, All Is Forgiven

A couple of months ago, after the burglary, I replaced the nicked big-red-beast of a laptop with a shiny new Core 2 Duo / 2GB of RAM laptop, powerful enough to run SONAR, all its dependencies, and a Java IDE at the same time without dying. It's still heavier than your average laptop, but not quite so much as to generate its own gravitational pull, like the old one. (It's so much more calming to be able to site down and browse t'intarweb without small objects orbiting your laptop, you know? The accretion disk of pens and paperclips always got in my way, and the time distortions played hell with my google calendar...)

Anyway, at the time I bought it, the *ONLY* OS you could get from Dell was Vista. I ummed and aahed, and debated and discussed, and eventually decided to ignore my own standard policy of wait-till-at-least-service-pack-1-before-installing-any-new-MS-OS and take the plunge. It arrived, and I admit I was pleasantly surprised..... at first. Until I tried to put any software on it.

Firefox often (about half the time) won't start, the process just sits there using ~ 4M of RAM and never even getting the splash screen, and the process can't be killed. I have to reboot the laptop and try again.

The Apache 2.2 service won't start.

The Bluedragon 7 JX service will start, but immediately stop.

Windows Firewall drives me so nuts I had to turn it off to prevent an unfortunate episode involving me, a shopping mall, a chainsaw, and visions of GTA3.

User Account Control - yes, yes, I KNOW it's off! I turned it off deliberately, dammit! Stop telling me about it!

Office 2007 - a brave idea, to depart from the established interface so completely, but where the hell is the "Save As..." command? Where's it gone?! The help file tells you how to use it, but doesn't tell you where it is! Can't I load a document, make some changes and then save it to a different filename anymore? I'm downgrading.

There's a pre-installed copy of CineLink PowerDVD that I've NEVER run, but seems to be permanently resident and using up to 200MB of RAM - is this a DRM thing..?

Roll on service pack 1....