Category Archives: IT

Computer hardware, software, telephones, gadgets witrh electronics in…

Twitter and the Golden Goose

TwitterI’ve never seen the point of Facebook or Google+, to be honest. To start with, it’s always been too trivial and too self-centred for my tastes. I don’t want to see endless bad photos of strangers  in a strange place all gurning into a camera wielded by a friend of a friend.

I also don’t want to see endless bloody snaps of restaurant meals, especially as I know this means you’re taking far long to eat your meal, it’s getting cold and the queue of hungry people at the door is getting longer. This costs restaurants money, which impacts directly on employment and the money that goes back into the local economy.

I do not want to see often-inappropriate adverts, some of them bordering on hate speech, shoved under my nose.

Lastly, I do not want to have to publicly reveal my address, for reasons of personal safety, nor my full name as shown on my birth certificate, for the simple reason that very few people know me by that name. To begin with: I have a somewhat venerable Internet handle (it must be getting on for 20 years old) that is far better known. In addition, like a lot of people, rich or poor, who detest their given name, I have used another for many, many years. It’s perfectly legal, and that Facebook (and Google) should insist on the public display of a name I no longer use is… Well, here in France it’s called non respect de la vie privée – probably best rendered as “disclosing private and confidential information”. To the French mind, it’s synonymous with “creep” and “bully”.

No, the solution is not always “don’t sign up”. Many clubs and associations use Facebook to publicise events, because it’s free. You can’t consult Facebook without being a member. You can’t report illegal content on their site, such as threats or hate speech, though it appears to be totally pointless anyway since they do fuck-all about it most of the time.

You can’t use YouTube to any extent without signing up for Google+. Fuck that too.

Now Twitter is getting into the “screw up the user experience” act. People have started complaining that they see different versions of their timeline in different clients. The promoted ads – clearly unvetted, since I have seen illegal ones go by – turn up with ever-increasing frequency. There are promoted hashtags now, while DMs are still a disaster, trolls continue to be able to add you to puerilely-entitled lists (some qualifying by themselves as hate speech) and tweet at you from behind a block. Sock puppetting is rife.

And the answer to this, according to Twitter? More “tailored” advertising. I’ll take time out here to say that, in my experience, “tailored” advertising is a load of unmitigated bollocks. As a rule, you’ll be relentlessly hammered with stuff you already have (or hate), because you or a contact mentioned it once.

The problem with the Twitter-Google-Facebook model is very simple: the service must be free to end users. That’s a lovely-sounding sentiment, redolent of the 60s, Flower Power, and Power To The People. Like all things that seem very simple, there are terrifying implications. The people who work for these companies need to eat. Where’s the money coming from, if everything is free?

So the users become, like TV audiences, a product. Objects. And this product is marketed to advertisers. Ignoring the underlying sociopathy of treating people as objects, can it bring in enough to keep these companies afloat for years to come?

Er…

With the possible exception of Google, which is always trying to branch out, I would suggest not. Something better programmed and less intrusive will come along, and that will be the sign to join MySpace in the oubliette.

It’s a shame because both are great ideas. They’re just badly implemented and – above all – terrified of changing a business model which may have been great to get the service off the ground, but is now hopelessly inadequate.

By all means, keep free access. There will always be people who need this lifeline. But to reduce sock puppetting, pile-on bullying and spambots you could limit, say, the number of free accounts that can connect simultaneously from one IP address, or the number of times they can post in a day. Make a note of the ones that scream about this, as I suspect a large proportion will be trolls.

Charities and emergency services, of course, should have unlimited free access. Churches are neither, by the way. They are businesses, looking for customers.

Personal accounts? Now, the odd thing is: I look at online games and I see they’ve got far more effective ways of securing accounts, verifying ownership and they still don’t feel the need to broadcast your legal name to the world. They can even afford moderators, automated bot sweeps and decent, rapid resolution of issues by Support. They do all this for what is often a very modest price.

I’m far from rich, but I’d be quite happy to stump up a small annual fee, knowing that Twitter will react to reports of abuse, spam, or harassment, and that they know exactly who and where the perp is, even if I don’t, so they can alert the authorities if necessary.

Company accounts, including single-owner businesses, should always be charged to use social media, even if other options aren’t implemented. They are, after all, advertisers. It simply doesn’t make business sense to put them on a par with private individuals. Incidentally, that would probably upset the snake-oil salesmen, but such is life.

To finish, here is a post from Howard Tayler (Schlock Mercenary) on the increasing levels of disservice in social media. ‘S’good. He writes well. You need to read it.

See also (from the advertisers’ point of view):

Guys, when everyone tells you you’re doing it wrong, it’s maybe time to listen.

Programming: REBOL (more of a shout-out than a yell)

Quote from the onsite blurb:

Fighting software complexity…

Software systems have become too complex, layers upon layers of complexity, each more brittle and vulnerable to failure. In the end software becomes the problem, not the solution. We rebel against such complexity, fighting back with the most powerful tool available: language itself.

Apart from the bad pun (don’t ask me what REBOL is an acronym for, I’ve completely forgotten), what that means is: here’s a fast, simple, powerful and, above all, flexible programming language.

REBOL was created in 1997 by the great (and a little bit late, but that was due to problems finding a parking slot) Carl Sassenrath, creator of the kernel for the first ever multitasking personal computer OS with the Commodore Amiga and a really nice guy. He’s still running the project, which has an active developer following.

While the usual reaction to this sort of thing is “Argh! No!!! Not another computer language!!!!!”, here that sort of reaction would be quite inappropriate, as well as costing a fortune in exclamation marks. REBOL represents a break with traditional languages like Java or C:

Firstly, it is extremely light and fast, and the code itself laughably easy to read
Carl Sassenrath writes squeaky clean code, and keeps it lean and mean. Remember AmigaOS, which used to fit onto a single double-density diskette, alright two if you include the Extras? The latest version of the REBOL core weighs less than 1 Mb. Apps are so tiny that if you blink, you’ll miss the download. Check out the complete webserver using only one page of code.

Secondly, it was specifically created to solve the problem of exchanging information on distributed computing systems
Distributed computing is a sort of load-balancing exercise where the work is spread out over different physical computers depending on power and availability. It’s very useful when dealing with large quantities of raw data. Not an easy task, which is why REBOL is designed to simplify things as much as possible for the user.

REBOL runs on a number of systems, including Windows, Mac, Linux, AmigaOS, BSD… and executables run on all REBOL-compatible systems without any “porting” required, again a major feat.

There is a slightly more technical description of REBOL here. You can also download it and play around with code. It’s easy to install: just unzip and click on the executable. If you’re into programming and current tools don’t cut it for you, this may just be what you want.

Originally published on 11 July 2006. Have added a few updates to text and added this photo of Carl taken by yours truly. The wine was excellent and I still have the bottle.

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