Public Service Internet monthly newsletter (March 2022)

Flag of Ukraine

We live in incredible times with such possibilities that is clear. Although its easily dismissed seeing the cyber-war alongside the disinformation war and of course the physical blood shed of war in the Ukraine from Vladimir Putin. It makes delivery drivers dancing for likes and Tinder changing prices based on personal data look even more pathetic.

To quote Buckminster Fuller “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

You are seeing aspects of this with the incredible resistance from the Ukraine people along with People leaving Facebook, enzymes eating plastics and  Android getting tracking protection.


Thoughts about the digital public sphere

Ian thinks: I still find re-reading Bill Thompson’s entry into the book “Building a European digital public space“, still full of wisdom and insight for the future of the digital public ecosystem.

The rush to virtually own your home has started

Ian thinks: On the face of it, it seems like a load of nonsense but the harms are clear as you read further and consider how the big tech corps always buy the smaller startups.

Mozfest’s grand webmontization tipping experiment

Ian thinks: Adding tipping to Mozfest is going to be a interesting dynamic for the mainly virtual festival this year. To take part you just need one of the pay what you like tickets.

O’reilly’s thoughts on Web3, interesting technology but get ready for the crash

Ian thinks: Tim O’Reilly has been asked a few time for his thoughts and this piece for CBS, certainly has put the cats in with the NFT pigeons.

The technology is questionable but the community is real?

Ian thinks: I do find something of hope in this article, as it explores the community side of the web3 hype. If the community spirit can outlive the huge speculation, that might make it worth while?

The deep worry of the fact checking systems

Ian thinks: Following Facebook fact checking the British medical journal, I found the EFF thoughts spot on. Saying you are fact checking isn’t nearly enough. Sadly a lot of people assume that is enough

Faster internet isn’t the panacea for a better society

Ian thinks: Although the paper seems slightly different from the news piece, The notion of faster internet as ultimate end is a bad mistake. Infrastructure is only part of the solution not the panacea.

Friction can be a good thing

Ian thinks: Last year I gave a talk about friction-less design and how it was partly to blame for the lack of control people have on the internet. This piece adds even more impact to the lack of friction.

Synthetic biology and needs a public entity?

Ian thinks: Amy’s new book The Genesis Machine, sounds far reaching but Amy raises a lot of points about who is driving synthetic biology? I kept wondering about a public entity besides Governments and Corporations.

Matrix’s swarm mode is truly terrifying (spoilers)

Ian thinks: There is so much about Matrix 4 which speaks about the current and future state of technology and society. Clearly swarm mode activating sleeper bots from a therapist who manipulates our feelings says plenty


Find the archive here

A rallying calling for distributed rather than decentralised

Centralied, decentralied and distributed network models

I’m currently writing my presentation for the Mozilla Festival on the metaverse vs the public service internet, and thinking about Web3 and the metaverse quite a bit in reflection to a truly digital public space…

There has been so much talk about Web 3.0 and Crypto. The recent interview with Tim Oreilly (heads-up, I know him and been to many of his conferences in the past), adds to the piles of critical thoughts of this all. I specially found Small technology’s (Aral & Laura, who I also know well) Web0 manifesto a interesting thought.

web3 = decentralisation + blockchain + NFTs + metaverse
web0 = web3 – blockchain – NFTs – metaverse
web0 = decentralisation

web0 is the decentralised web.

Pulling all the “corporate right-libertarian Silicon Valley bullshit.” out of Web3, leaving us with a decentralised web.

Something I believe is a landmark on the way to the future destination of the distributed web. (I’m aware web isn’t the right term rather it should be internet but as most people experience the internet via the web…).

I think about this a lot as I look at the very notion of a public service internet and the very idea of a public service stack. The decentralisation move still has elements of neoliberatiasm which puts dependence on the individual. This is fine if you got time, resource and knowledge. Those without are out of luck?

As you can imagine not everyone has these but in a distributed model you can trust others to support/help/collaborate to lessen the cognitive/environmental/time load. This gives everybody the ability to benefit from a distributed internet.

If that isn’t the future, I’m not sure what is?

To me, the distributed model is a superset, supporting the decentralised and even some aspects of centralised models. Federated is also interesting to me but for many different reasons.

The Metaverse* vs The Public Service Internet, coming to Mozfest in March

Metaverse vs Public Service InternetOver the last few months theres been a ton of interest in the metaverse, we all know why. Its been annoying seeing people wooing over something which others have started building decades earlier.

Off the back of the hype for the corporate metaverse (I really want to separate the hard work others have done/doing from what the likes of Facebook/Meta are attempting to do – aka take it over for their own benefit). I started to explore the corporate metaverse in a blog and previous to that the parallels with digital and physical spaces.

Metaverse

This got me thinking about the values and ethics which make the public service internet so important and so different from the corporate metaverse. But rather than think it out myself alone, I wrote a proposal for Mozfest 2022 to explore this in a discussion with a number of people. Evaluating emerging technology to understand its benefits and its problem. To hopefully shape the technology for the benefit of the public and society, is the goal of the session.

I’m extremely proud to say it was accepted and in March this year, I will lead the session sketching out the stark differences.

I almost want to add Web3 to the line up, but I believe there will be plenty to cover just in the metaverse alone.

Want to be at the session? Grab a early bird ticket before they go! You can also volunteer to help make the whole festival amazing.

A Rallying Cry for a Free Digital Future

I watched a part of the ThisIsUnfinished conference (partly because I assumed the timezone were New York time and made the manual change to my calendar and I attended another conference in person on the Friday)

Anyway all the talks are online (Vimeo) to watch now. I did a little sum up for work but found the conference fascinating, especially when Baratunde Thurston filling in for time asked a member of the audience what they felt so far.

You couldn’t hear the reply but it was longer than expecting. Baratunde summed it up, saying the member of audience had found the contrasts of the talks interesting. I would agree, because in some talks you had people talking about web3 (internet 3 really) in the scope of DLTs (blockchain tech) and on the other hand you had talks like Eli Parser’s section of talks about what we can learn for the future.

I’m still going through the ones I missed but this insight is summed up in A Rallying Cry for a Free Digital Future.

This is great quote from Anil Dash

Take a look at the phone in your pocket. Take a look at the tabs in your browser. Ask yourself. How many of those apps were made by people who you know, of know who they are there from your community. Maybe they’re local homegrown organic, just like the food that you eat, you know, where it’s tourist and do they share your values and care about the things you care about? And if you don’t feel good about what you’re putting in your eyes, when you put it in your mouth and make some changes. We do have a lot of power to make that thing a lot better.

This leads nicely into the potential of web3 beyond the short sighted put  everything on the blockchain stuff.

What is Web 3.0 and Why Do We Need It?

Web 3, Parity, Polkadot, Substrate, ipfs, blockchain? Wtf?

While visiting Republica 2019 and writing my presentation about it, I was trying to make sense of the deeper decentralised web stack. Jutta Steiner gave a talk at Republica but I was a little lost in what she was talking about. It was clear it was important but I was lost in the terms.

Watching her talk from tech open air (TOA19) was a lot clearer.

She also reminded me about the web3 summit, which I wish I could attend but always felt like I might not be quite the right person for it. I look forward to hearing what comes out of it however because its clear as Jutta says

…The first time I interacted with the web like everything was open and somehow that was the the perception like we now have this great tool and sort of thought like it’s not this these closed intranets. But it’s the information superhighway we can do whatever we want but what happened really over the 30 or so years afterwards was we replicated or built a ton of intermediaries that basically sit between us and anybody we want to interact on the with on the web online, be that through what’s that when we text to someone through Facebook, venmo, whatever you use you buy anything there’s always an intermediary for something that really should be a general p2p interaction. So the problem with this really is what’s underneath this and what led to this mass these mass centralization and of power and data in the hands of very few people is the fact that we had to do this in a very centralized way because this is just how the Internet technologies of where to work so we have an underlying architecture with centralized servers where all the data is gathered because of network effect the power accumulates and accumulates, and this is a very fraught way of doing things because you have a central point of failure and that was massively exposed by the Snowden revelations I mean partly because also backdoors are built into it but partly because it’s it’s centralized architecture…

Clear reason why web 3, I think…

Browser vendors now own the web?

On the face of it… W3C hands over development of HTML and DOM standards to browser vendors (WHATWG). Sounds like a good idea, right?

I mean the W3C was pushing for the semantic web, more rdf, more linked data and xml structuring.

Down with XML, down with linked data, rdf and the very idea of the semantic web – uggghhhh! (or something like that? I can hear you all say!).

Well hold on, remember how the web started? Remember the foresight which kept the web free and open. Insights like SVG when the proprietary alternative of flash was ruling the web. I for one really liked XML and the suite of technologies which came along with it. XHTML was a joy to use once browser vendors got on board and sorted there act out.

I was there during the fight from HTML4 to XHTML 1.0. Still remember fighting about Microformats vs RDF at BarCampLondon2 and to be fair WHATWG was likely right at the time but they didn’t have the foresight of looking further into the future. The semantic web was a big vision but whats the big vision of WHATWG now?

My fear is handing the web over to mainly browser vendors will lead us back to where the web was at during HTML 4.0. A mix of unspecified bits and bobs which rely on native browser capabilities. Whos fighting for accessibility, i18n, l10n, old systems, etc, etc? My only hope is because the w3c only handed over control of HTML and DOM, they will double down on CSS and ECMAscript?

I want the web to move forward and I know there was a lot of tension between the W3C and WHATWG but they kept each other honest. Handing the web over, I fear will ultimately make things worst for all?

The WebOS…

Jason Kottke has an amazing read about the emergence of the web operating system. I've noticed over a very short time, people habits changing (even my own) most of my day is spent in some web/net connected applications like firefox, widgets, rss readers. I hardly ever need most of the apps on my computer day in day out. He also confirms quite a few thoughts I've had about the future of the web in regards to operating systems and the net. So some thoughts while reading Jason's post…

Google. If Google is not thinking in terms of the above, I will eat danah's furriest hat. They've already shifted the focus of Google Desktop with the addition of Sidebar and changing the name of the application (it used to be called Google Desktop Search…and the tagline changed from “Search your own computer” to the more general “Info when you want it, right on your desktop”). To do it properly, I think they need their own browser (with bundled Web server, of course) and they need to start writing their applications to work on OS X and Linux (Google is still a Windows company)[4]. Many of the moves they've made in the last two years have been to outflank Microsoft, and if they don't use Google Desktop's “insert local code into remote sites” trick to make whatever OS comes with people's computers increasingly irrelevant, they're stupid, stupid, stupid. Baby step: make Gmail readable offline.

In agreement, Gmail with offline support via google desktop would be a good move forward.

Yahoo. I'm pretty sure Yahoo is thinking in these terms as well. That's why they bought Konfabulator: desktop presence. And Yahoo has tons of content and apps that that would like to offer on a WebOS-like platform: mail, IM, news, Yahoo360, etc. Challenge for Yahoo: widgets aren't enough…many of these applications are going to need to run in Web browsers. Advantages: Yahoo seems to be more aggressive in opening up APIs than Google…chances are if Yahoo develops a WebOS platform, we'll all get to play.

Hard to admit, but Yahoo are seriously getting this and have over took google in the innovation field. Yes Google still have the upper hand, but I'm not certain that will be the case if Yahoo do buy Technorati or launch there killer. I'm also thinking Yahoo and Mozilla could partner if Jason is right about Widgets not being enough.

Microsoft. They're going to build a WebOS right into their operating system…it's likely that with Vista, you sometimes won't be able to tell when you're using desktop applications or when you're at msn.com. They'll never develop anything for OS X or for Linux (or for browsers other than IE), so its impact will be limited. (Well, limited to most of the personal computers in the world, but still.)

I'm still trying to get my head around a operating system which is so web enabled. I'm assuming RSS will allow Vista to by pass the web on the desktop type crap. Hopefully Microsoft have got there thinking hats fully on because they will miss the trick if they let Yahoo and Google develop a web OS on top of Vista.

Apple. Apple has all the makings of a WebOS system right now. They've got the browser, a Web server that's installed on every machine with OS X, Dashboard, iTMS, .Mac, Spotlight, etc. All they're missing is the applications (aside from the Dashboard widgets). But like Microsoft, it's unlikely that they'll write anything for Windows or Linux, although if OS X is going to run on cheapo Intel boxes, their market share may be heading in a positive direction soon.

I think Apple get it but there hardware/software dependancy is a problem which could really slow them down. I expect we shall see what happens with the whole Apple on Intel deal.

The Mozilla Foundation. This is the most unlikely option, but also the most interesting one. If Mozilla could leverage the rapidly increasing user base of Firefox and start bundling a small Web server with it, then you've got the beginnings of a WebOS that's open source and for which anyone, including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and anyone with JavaScript chops, could write applications. To market it, they could refer to the whole shebang as a new kind of Web browser, something that sets it apart from IE, a true “next generation” browser capable of running applications no matter where you are or what computer (or portable device) you're using

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See I think Jason has it a little wrong here. Mozilla has built a lot of community mind share into there web OS products. More so that the others in some respects. Also about the small web server, Greasemonkey anyone? XUL runner is also the foot in the door of widget type fuctionality and they certainly have the full support of the community behind them. How many extensions are there now for Firefox, anyone? Jason also made reference to the lack of rich UI support in web OS. Well Mozilla's got the open standards message and is using SVG, XBL and other standards going on. My bets are on Mozilla and Yahoo for sure.

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