Archive for the ‘SaaS’ Category

will Diaspora “succeed”?

June 30, 2011

Diaspora still lacks punch because proper implementation (i.e. as a personal web server, not et al.) is still for the wizards. But the beauty is, that when (if? (vaporware?)) it is properly implemented, it will differentiate itself from GooglePlus and Facebook in a way that offers value to mass market consumers in the form of privacy and data portability. If consumers could buy an easy-to-install, pre-configured wall-wart running FreedomBox/Diaspora with the option of gratis/paid services for specialized configuration or feature development, some would be willing and able to buy such a device.

Unfortunately, the issues around privacy and data portability/access are not issues that typically capture the mass market’s attention. Will enough users care to expend the energy to create an instance of their social life on Diaspora and learn its interface? I’m skeptical, but if Diaspora keeps developing like it is, I see no reason to leave. For me personally, Diaspora has been like Twitter on steroids. My “use” of Twitter has pretty much been reduced to my Diaspora posts being pushed out to Twitter automatically.

Putting aside social pull and the goal of market power, I think the success of Diaspora should be measured similarly to the goals of the GNU Project. While advocates of software like the GNU/Linux operating system enjoy hearing news of market success, they see the existence of free software itself as the most important success, rather than growing popularity. Maybe there will only ever be enough capital behind Diaspora to sustain a niche market or perhaps, it will come to the mass market. Regardless of that, even if a small network of users exist who can run their own privacy-aware, free personal web server, that’s a success too.


June 29, 2010

Matthew Papakipos:

Facebook! Love the product and team.

Facebook isn’t a product. Facebook is tool used to obtain the actual product. That being user information. I wonder what Matthew thinks of efforts like Diaspora. Or for that matter, what his former coworkers at Google think.

Google says: if it’s private, it’s probably illicit or illegal

December 8, 2009

If you install proprietary software on your computer, you’re putting your privacy at risk. This is but one of several reasons not to. It’s possible however, to run a completely Free system yet forfeit the protection Free software offers. All one needs to do is use “cloud” computing. Essentially, this means crunching your data while it resides on another’s server. In the case of Google (and others), this appears to be an inevitable trend in the coming years.

The idea of having one’s data in another’s hands is nothing new…mainstream Internet users have been doing so with email clients like Hotmail and Yahoo for years. It’s the ubiquity that’s alarming. We’re not talking only of email. We’re talking everything. At least that’s the early idea behind something like Google’s Chromium OS.

It’s alarming (though not surprising) then, to hear Google CEO Eric Schmidt claim that:

If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

This makes clear that Google’s obligation won’t be to take a stand for free speech or privacy rights. It doesn’t take much imagination to think of just uses of cloud storage that certain governments through corrupt law will deem harmful to society and demand the “perpetrators” be outed. Google being a corporation, doesn’t care at all about anyone’s rights or spreading the freedom that comes with Free software (despite many individuals within the organization that may). Google’s top priorities will be to serve local laws (not out of respect for law, but to do business) and their bottom line. Schmidt’s quote is a stark reminder that while systems like Chrome OS help steer us successfully away from the chains of proprietary software, it’s still important for society to have viable, Free, local computing environment options for the sake of privacy rights.

If we do this…if we enable this environment and promote systems like Chrome in tandem, then perhaps we will be working toward something of benefit to computer users around the world.

Amazon plays Ministry of Truth

July 18, 2009

I wonder if Doug bought either of these books. Something tells me it’ll take a memory hole in his Kindle (at least) before he considers turning his back on DRM-infested e-books. At least the irony in 1984 “magically” disappearing provides a good laugh given the disturbing news.

school privacy and “cloud computing”

January 16, 2009

I’m noticing a growing trend in international schools to shift as much of the institution’s computing as possible to 3rd-party servers. The most popular seems to be Google servers – for example, GMail and Google Docs. My school director forwarded yet another instance of a school in South America doing this and below is my response:

Using a 3rd-party’s online services to do your computing is often referred to as Cloud Computing.

What is often not considered is that when an organization or individual uses such services, the user’s data goes into the hands of the party providing the service. This means that privacy is forfeited in exchange for the convenience of the service. In some cases this may not be a problem at all (e.g. a blog, microblog, or bookmarks are often a public venture and not a matter of privacy) but in other cases it can be irresponsible. What a school needs to decide is what information they consider private and what information is OK for outsiders to have a copy of.

I would always suggest that staff email be kept as local as possible. I would also suggest that most documents be kept as local as possible. And in regard to online classwork and assessments, that too I would suggest a school keep as local as possible. I don’t see “FREE” and the convenience of these services as incentive enough to put copies of our staff email, school documents, and student work in the hands of a 3rd party. Frankly, I think staff/student email, documents, grades/transcripts, and class work are generally a private matter and schools using Cloud Computing to do such work should reconsider that choice.

Any thoughts?

ethical licensing for electronic voting software

August 5, 2008

Update: Luis Villa was kind to converse with me via email and noted that the AGPL’s language speaks only to networked software as a service. Therefore, while the AGPL may be a good choice for web-based voting, it may not work at all for traditional e-voting machines. A similar-in-spirit license with slightly different wording may be needed (I’m wondering if one exists). Of course, the better approach would simply be to legislate disclosure of the code and the best might be to ban electronic voting altogether.


Dan Wallach:

My question to the peanut gallery: what sort of license would you select for a bright, shiny new voting system project and why?

Lots of mention of the GPL in the comments of that post but it nor any permissive free software license (or the public domain) is appropriate. The GPL does not require disclosure of modifications made to the machine-installed version as the software is not being propagated. Therefore, the software on the machines could be different than the version(s) voters download to audit. To serve democracy, the voters must be able to audit unmodified copies of the software actually used on the machines. A license that will do this is (not necessarily – see update above) the Affero GPL. It would force exact copies of the software used on the machines to become available to users of the machines.

And on a related note, electronic voting needs free software as a service but that’s not enough. A tangible record (e.g. paper) is also necessary as free software doesn’t necessarily prevent tampering of the machines in the possession of those the public must trust.


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