“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” ― William Morris

Big Brother’s Data Aquisition Filters

Posted: June 19th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Privacy & Security | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Cory Doctorow has another interesting piece in the Guardian today about how Britain is collecting too much surveillance data to be useful. His argument is that collecting information about everything and trying to create predictions, be it about weather forecasts or terrorist events, will not lead to success due mainly to the computing power required to process such volumes of information.

Although I agree with his stance about their being too much surveillance in British society, something that could well be damaging our population as a whole by removing our need to have personal responsibility for our actions, I disagree with his overall argument. Yes, collecting the movement of every butterfly in the world to predict the weather would be ridiculous and impossible to deal with, but in the world of more directed, human activities information can be much more revealing. Right now we may not know what behaviours indicate a potential attack, but over time with the right data and good analysis it is conceivable that these behaviours can be isolated and hence our limited Police resources can be deployed more effectively.

We’re talking about artificial augmentation of our senses here. Right now, watching 1000s of CCTV cameras is ineffective on the whole at prevention, but potentially automated matching technology could draw attention to those looking more suspicious, to a level a computer can recognise, and then a human can do the final filtering. No way can a team, however big, watch every person in London. In the same way that no person could do what Google does every time we do a search.

Augmentation and filtering based on our needs is a constantly expanding field as we go past the information age and into the ‘Knowledge Age’, whether for security or personal goals. Having a large pool of, ideally non-identifying, data to work on to create these filters is fundamental to success. Although as each level of filter is deployed and improved, then all that will happen is someone will game the system and find a way round – for comparison, spam blogs didn’t exist a few years ago, and now they are everywhere. That said, should we be trying to create an all seeing ‘Big Brother’ computer system that watches us at all time? That’s an ethical and moral question that is harder to answer.


The Pirate’s Dilemma: To Compete, or Not To Compete

Posted: April 16th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Social Media | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Matt Mason, author of The Pirate’s Dilemma, gave a great talk recently at the Medeci conference. He covers a lot of the ground from his book here, with great anecdotes about how piracy affects our society, and consequently how we do business. His summary: sometimes you should sue pirates, if they’re not adding value to society, but in many cases you shouldn’t – in the cases where popular opinion is generally in favor of that brand of piracy. For example with music downloading, people know it’s wrong, but pirates still buy music from download sources such as iTunes – however noone thinks it’s right that a big music company sues a young music fan for downloading. To paraphrase Mason, “If suing your customers is your business, then you are lawyers and no longer in the music industry”.

Mason’s solution is simple, if the piracy you face is something that society wants (eg, quick music downloads for cheaper than CD) then you should give it to them – otherwise someone else will. There are three steps to this; 1) watch the pirates – let them do their stuff, remixing and re-packaging your stuff. Good piracy a) adds value to the original, b) creates innovation and, perversely, c) creates demand for new things based around your brand. 2) You have to question what your real business is… for example iTunes now sells convenience, rather than music – you could get the music for free online but it’s a bit of a hassle, iTunes is familiar, quick and comfortable to use. So sell a different experience, Hollywood had it’s biggest summer ever – $4 billion – so piracy can’t be hurting them that much. 3) Finally, the hardest step – copy the pirates to beat them, because if you don’t – your competitors will.

All good advice, with great anecdotes. You can watch Mason’s entire talk here.


‘Death by Blogging’ – Modern Life Strikes Again

Posted: April 8th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Internet Life | Tags: , , | No Comments »

The New York Times has a short piece on a few prolific bloggers who recently dropped dead. The concern is that the highly competitive (and lucrative) market for fast breaking blog stories is driving up stress levels amongst top tier bloggers. Habits such as no life/work separation and the business need to have the first post on a new tech break-through in order to drive better views and advertising revenues is endemic. People now expect information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and many home grown bloggers take this to heart, not realising that larger organisations have teams on shifts to produce the same results.

Personally I’m not sure that these first recorded ‘blogging’ deaths a summer of dead bloggers make – to badly paraphrase an old saying. Modern life and health habits all conspire to preventing long life. All of us working on computers day in, day out would do well to take a moment away, de-stress and enjoy a physical life away from the screens that surround us. It’s a hard truth, but one we all need to follow, however fun our internet lives are.


Today is No Music Day

Posted: November 21st, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Internet Life | Tags: , , | No Comments »

It’s official, today is ‘No Music Day’. Well, on Radio Scotland anyway.

Bill Drummond, musical genius, artist and one part of the trancendent KLF, is hosting his third yearly ‘No Music Day‘ on Radio Scotland today. There can be chat, discussion and many other things, but not music. His rationale is simple; there’s just too much of it these days, and it’s hard to appreciate what there is without taking a break. Too true.

Unfortunately I’d already started the day listening to music, so maybe next year I’ll join in. Although maybe by then I’ll have my own, personal day of abstinence in place – No Internet Day – which will be the day I get most work done I’m sure.