Category Archives: Internet

Life before internet

Next week I will start teaching Cyberlaw at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. This will be a wonderful experience for me. I love teaching and meeting smart and interesting students. I also have a deep passion for technology and the way it interacts with law.

While preparing my notes for the first class, I was thinking about the tone to give to the class and I was wondering if my students will be tech geeks, normal tech users or even tech newbies. The course does not have any specific technical requirement and it welcomes any kind of student.

While thinking about this thing, I realized that most of my students will be in their twenties right now. This means they were born in the 90s, most likely in the very first years of that decade. Given that the internet really started to grow and get in touch with normal people with the advent of the world wide web and given that the introduction of the first web browser, Mosaic, is from 1994, this basically means that when my students never lived without internet. For them, internet is normal.

This made me remind how it was to be a tech geek when internet was not here. It was pretty fun, mostly because it sounded like visiting a foreign planet: everything was new and completely different from what we were used to.

The first thing that I remember was my father bringing home an old 300 baud modem. This was a weird device that connected to the computer. If you wanted to login to a local bulletin board system (the BBS), you had to pick up the phone, dial a number and plug the phone into the modem. Everything was pseudo-digital and mostly analogic. When I say “plug the phone”, I don’t mean connecting a cable to the phone’s logic board. I mean physically plugging the phone in two big earphone-like things that were supposed to listen to the weird noise coming from the phone, and translate it in digital signals. Pure science-fiction!

Connecting to local BBS was fun. I exchanged messages with other users, downloaded software (it took forever to complete a download) and…super cool…downloaded the first online porn. What you could do at that time was downloading photos of naked girls. The problem: it was taking forever to download a single photo. Nothing compared to the HD streaming of today’s porno websites!

When the internet finally came, I remember talking to my father about this. Internet subscriptions were pretty expensive at that time, and I finally convinced my dad to buy one plan as a business thing for his company. We were supposed to share the login of the internet provider and I agreed to use the internet only a few minutes per day (you still had to dial a phone number, and phone calls were pretty expensive).

But here is the problem: at that time there were no search engines. How did you know which websites to visit? Well, you had to buy a magazine on the newsstand. I used to purchase one called “.net”. This magazine listed the links of new interesting websites. Every time one new issue of “.net” was released, I run home to visit the new websites listed on the magazine. It was like going for a treasure hunt when your friend gave you a map!

Good old times.

Nowadays internet is given for granted, people have unlimited data everywhere (at home, on their phones), speed is blazing fast and we live connected 24/7. An incredible improvement in such a short time!

The real problem of internet is not Google but free services

Marco Arment recently posted an interesting view on the decision of Google to close the company’s Google Reader product. While I enjoyed reading the article, as I do most of the times I read something authored by Marco, I don’t agree on its focus and I think that Marco gets the wrong conclusion from his analysis.

In summary, Marco connects the closure of Google Reader to the death of RSS and he warns us about Google, Facebook and other big websites’ attempt to centralize internet and its services. Marco concludes his article by saying:

That world formed the web’s foundations — without that world to build on, Google, Facebook, and Twitter couldn’t exist. But they’ve now grown so large that everything from that web-native world is now a threat to them, and they want to shut it down. “Sunset” it. “Clean it up.” “Retire” it. Get it out of the way so they can get even bigger and build even bigger proprietary barriers to anyone trying to claim their territory.

Well, fuck them, and fuck that.

I think that the real problem of internet is not Google (and other big websites) but the existence of free services online, under the current tech framework.

Google did not kill RSS. It killed the best cloud syncing system of RSS subscriptions.

RSS is the protocol that websites use to provide their readers with an easy way to follow any update on the website. Instead of asking readers to connect to their websites using a browser and manually checking whether the content of the website has been changed, readers use an RSS client that automatically connects to the websites’ RSS feed and retrieve the updated information, presenting it in a unique UI.

The benefit of RSS has been huge at the time of its invention. Before the RSS, users had to manually check each and every website they followed. After the RSS, users were able to fire up their preferred RSS client and received all the updates of all the websites they were following, all with a single click and in one single window. Pretty cool.

With the advent of mobile devices such as the iPhone and the iPad, the need to access one’s own RSS feeds on multiple devices became important. This is why Google Reader became successful. Google’s product was the first and best example of a cloud syncing system for RSS feeds. Users could store all of their favorite RSS feeds on Google Reader and could access them from anywhere, with different devices all synced together. If I read an article of Marco’s blog on my Mac, the same article would have been marked as read when I accessed Marco’s blog on the iPad or on the iPhone. If I added a blog to my feeds using my Mac, I would have found the articles of this feed when accessing my RSS client on the iPad.

In view of the above, it is clear that Google did not kill RSS. This protocol is still there. Google killed one of the best RSS clients that exist on the internet and it killed the best cloud syncing system for RSS feeds.

Google Reader costs money to maintain

Marco says that Google Reader did not require maintenance and that its cost was small, compared to the cost of other projects that Google is running. While this may be true, we have to remember that Google is a for-profit corporation and while maintaining the code of Google Reader may have not required a lot of work, we have to consider the cost of maintaining a cloud storage for all the subscriptions of all users and the cost of allowing incoming and outgoing API bandwidth. Sure, I am not expecting here a huge cost but it is still a cost and a corporation has the right to evaluate whether it makes sense to continue wasting money.

Also, while the management cost of Google Reader may be a fraction of the total operative costs of the company, I am sure no other smaller company would be willing to absorb this cost. Alternatives to Google Reader, such as Feedly, Digg and so on must find a monetization system if they want to be able to support their own products, otherwise they will fail and they will bring down with them all the users that have migrated to their systems after the closure of Google’s product.

No product can survive without monetization. Sure, a protocol can survive, but RSS itself does not allow any user to follow blogs. You need a client and, more important, you need a cloud syncing system. You need a product.

This brings me to the real scope of this article.

Internet services should not be free

Internet spoiled us. I remember that when I started using internet, at the beginning of the consumer’s adoption of the ‘net, I was shocked at the idea of having so many things to read for free. While before the internet I had to go to my local newsstand to buy a magazine, now I was able to read articles, news, etc. for free.

The s.c. web 2.0 further spoiled us. We started using for free many services, like blog platforms, photo sharing systems, etc. We give it for granted that we have free access to these tools. In some way, we think it’s our right to have these services for free. But this is a major mistake.

As I said before, products can’t exist without monetization. Some of the above mentioned tools, like Flickr or Gmail, continue to exist because their owners benefit from displaying advertisement on these products. In some way, we are indirectly paying for these services by allowing Google et similia to use our information to drive relevant ads to us. Some other tools, like Instagram, can provide us with free services, free products, because they sold themselves to Facebook. If they did not sell to Facebook and if they did not find any monetization system, they would have closed business soon.

These products can be profitable without charging their own users only if they reach big masses. This is why Facebook, Google and company have to concentrate and centralize their services. This is not a bad thing itself, it’s just a survival necessity. Some of these products by themselves would not collect enough users to become profitable under the advertisement model. We can’t complain that these companies are concentrating these services, as long as we want these services to be free.

How to pay for internet services?

So far, pay-for-use internet services have not been successful. We have seen several attempts to solve this problem. Flattr, for example, tried to introduce a system where users can donate money to their favorite bloggers or website. I don’t have data but I don’t have the feeling that this system has been successful, I don’t personally know anyone who uses it or adopted it. App.net is another example of services that we would think should be free (see Twitter) and that someone is trying to charge us for. Again, I don’t have data but I think, from what I read around, that App.net is doing well but it is far from becoming a massively adopted tool and an alternative to Twitter.

I think that the main problem is still the one mentioned above. Users are spoiled. The average user does not want to donate money to his favorite bloggers and does not want to pay $5 a month for a service such as App.net when he can get for free something more popular such as Twitter. But then we can’t complain if Twitter starts using our personal information to drive relevant ads to our account or if Twitter removes beloved features.

The solution?

I think there may be two different solutions to this problem.

  1. We need to change our mindset. We need to realize that if we want a product, we need to pay for it. Free internet can’t continue on its current basis. Sooner or later even the biggest corporations operating on internet right now will have to consider whether they can get enough money for the services they are providing for free. Also, this solution does not solve an ancillary problem: as long as you allow a corporation to control a service, the corporation will be in the position to shut down the service, change its features or affect in other ways the service;
  2. The real solution would be to build a system where any cost associated to a service is supported by users, directly or indirectly. For example, I look at Bittorrent as an example of a solution. Bittorrent allows users to avoid paying for cloud storage, you don’t need anything to share a file with someone else, you don’t need a cyber locker, nothing. Think about decentralizing the Google Reader cloud syncing system between computers using a Bittorrent technology. Think about the same kind of technology being the framework for an open source service such as Twitter. I am not an expert on these things but the feeling is that crowdsourcing could be a solution to internet’s current problem. The sooner we adopt this solution, the sooner we will avoid a predominance of big corporations controlling services and content online and we will be finally in total control of our beloved services.

What do you think?

Y Combinator, circa 1977

The wonderful offices of Coloft, in Santa Monica, CA

Today I was walking to my favorite Starbucks in Santa Monica, on Broadway and Lincoln, and I passed by one of the most interesting and cool places in town, Coloft, an open space for startups. While peeking through the windows of Coloft, I saw a guy working there on his desk, with his Macbook Air laptop, headphones on, etc. What I just witnessed was the perfect example of the idea of startups that we have today: big open spaces, laptops everywhere, good decorations on the walls, guys working hard while listening to some cool music, etc.

This stereotype of startups’ offices mostly comes from the fact that many of the big startups’ offices really look like this. I have been very lucky to work at Twitter for one year, from 2009 and 2010, and I call tell you that Twitter’s offices were exactly the same. Big desks, open space, Mac laptops everywhere, cool decorations, fancy headphones and amazing music.

One of the desks at Twitter’s Offices in San Francisco, CA

The reason why many open spaces or collaborative spaces and most of the startups’ offices look the same is very simple and it can be explained in two ways: (i) first, people believe that in order to replicate success, you have to follow the steps of the ones who had success before you; (ii) also, this kind of offices represents the way young and smart people really work and how they interact with each others (you need open spaces because you want to get in touch with all your co workers to share ideas, you want equal spaces because you believe each and every employee is a member of a sole team, you listen to music while you work because it helps you to focus, you love wonderful decorations because you are a creative person, and so on).

I love love love this kind of environment and the way Twitter’s Offices were was one of the reasons why I deeply loved every day of my experience there.

Then something hit me. While everyone today talks about Twitter, Facebook, etc. as the examples of tech startups, we can’t forget that the idea of tech startup really started in the 70s, thanks to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the two gurus who built Apple Inc. from scratch in Job’s garage. So, basically while today the mythos is to create your own startup in a coffee shop or at a collaborative space, in the 70s I am quite sure that everyone tried to replicate the success of Apple by working in garages! The different environment makes sense. At that time, personal computers did not really exist, internet was just a dream and that’s why a space such as the one at Coloft would not have worked.

Then I thought about Y Combinator, the king of incubator programs in the World. While Y Combinator does not offer, per se, collaborative spaces to the startups that they admit in their program, Y Combinator’s name blends so well with the stereotype of nowadays startups that I am sure 99.99% of the people that think about this program automatically picture their offices exactly as the offices of Coloft, Twitter, etc.

This is why, ladies and gentlemen, I present you with a picture I just got from one of my most recent trips back in time 😉 I took this picture in Los Altos, CA, in 1977.

Y Combinator, circa 1977

In the picture you can see a young Paul Graham while he is waiting for the next bunch of applicants for his brand new incubator. In the back, you can see the collaborative space of Y Combinator at that time, a series of garages ready to be used by the lucky candidates to create amazing things and imagine the future. These garages, of course, are a perfect replica of Steve Jobs’ garage. Each startup admitted will receive an investment in the amount of $4,600.00 (the 1977 equivalent of the average $17,000.00 that Y Combinator gives to startups). All candidates will have a chance to tour the local Xerox’s offices to find inspiration. On the final day of the program, candidates will have a chance to present their ideas in front of a panel of potential investors, such as Very Young Chris Sacca and Young Ron Conway.

And remember, the deadline for application is expiring soon, you should submit your ideas asap.

*just to be on the safe side, this post should be considered as ironic. I have no intent to offend anyone

Good old Usenet

Maybe most of the internet users nowadays do not even know what Usenet is or maybe they just think that Usenet is the place where they can download illegal movies and songs. But Usenet is more than that, it’s a magical place where you can meet fantastic people and where you can discuss about almost any topic. It’s a sort of completely free forum.

But it is also very different from a forum because nobody owns Usenet. When you post a message, the message is transmitted in real time to all the Usenet servers in the World and anyone can read your message, notwithstanding which server they are using. It’s like a centric system, where any kind of content is shared in real time between each node or server of the system.

I find Usenet extremely fascinating. There is complete anonymity, something different from the nowadays times where everyone has to use his real name on Facebook or Google Plus. It’s different from other systems, because there is no censorship, nobody can control what you post and share and there are no admins managing the community. It’s big because there are thousands of groups, each one of them dedicated to different topics.

Sure, Usenet nowadays is not used in the same way it was used several years ago. Unfortunately, most of the users go on Usenet to download TV Shows and movies. But lucky for me there are still many users online who enjoy a good discussion! I usually read comic books’ groups, such as rec.arts.comics.marvel.universe or the Italian it.arti.fumetti. It’s always a pleasure to meet new people!

In some way, Usenet gives me the good vibes that I used to get in the good old times, when I was having fun connecting to local BBS in my own city, meeting people and discussing about interesting stuff.

I love Usenet. If you have never tried it, you should really check it out. Newsdemon.com has a good offer. I just purchased 10GB of traffic for just two bucks, super cheap!

Perché adoro internet…

…perché dà voce alle persone che non hanno voce.

Public School 22 è una scuola elementare pubblica a Staten Island, una zona povera di New York. I bambini che frequentano questa scuola arrivano da famiglie con problemi economici particolarmente seri.

La Public School 22 ha un coro di bambini diretto da un maestro a dir poco eccezionale, Gregg Breinberg.

Gregg ha passione, amore per i bambini e per la musica. La scuola di coro è stata costituita nel 2000 da Gregg. Nel 2006 Gregg condivise su internet alcuni video dei suoi scolari mentre cantavano le canzoni nel coro. Da quel momento la sua scuola di coro e soprattutto i suoi bambini divennero un fenomeno irrefrenabile. I video postati su Youtube sono stati visti milioni di volte da utenti provenienti da tutto il mondo, i bambini sono stati invitati a cantare durante la trasmissione di Oprah, il personaggio televisivo più popolare d’America, sono andati a cantare dal Presidente Obama e hanno ricevuto ospiti celebri come Beyonce, Rihanna e Lady Gaga.

Grazie ad internet, Gregg è riuscito a rendere popolari i suoi bambini. Quei bambini che nei video cantano con così tanta passione e con movenze che fanno tenerezza, dei piccoli cantanti!

Gustatevi uno dei video del mitico PS22 Chorus!


 

Gli RSS, come funzionano

Ultimamente mi sto appassionando al mondo degli RSS. Cosa sono gli RSS? In sostanza si tratta di un sistema mediante il quale il contenuto di un blog o di uno sito internet viene reso disponibile in formato light a tutti gli internauti.

Perché usare gli RSS? In sostanza perché con alcuni programmi appositi o con alcuni siti web è possibile tenere d’occhio tutti i blog e i siti che si seguono. Ogni volta che uno di questi blog o siti verrà aggiornato, il nostro sistema di gestione degli RSS ci consentirà di essere avvertiti e di poter visionare il contenuto del sito direttamente all’interno del sistema di gestione.

Cosa usare per leggere gli RSS? I due modi più semplici per gestire i propri RSS sono, secondo me, Google Reader o NetNewsWire. Il primo sistema è accessibile online all’indirizzo http://www.google.com/reader/. Basta utilizzare il proprio account Google e aggiungere gli indirizzi dei siti o blog che si intendono seguire.

Google Reader

Se invece si preferisce utilizzare un software dedicato, allora consiglio il mitico NetNewsWire per Macintosh. Il suo utilizzo è molto semplice e simile a quello di Google Reader: si aggiungono i siti internet, si organizzano gli stessi per cartelle, si imposta l’eventuale sincronizzazione con Newsgator e si inizia il divertimento!

NetNewsWire

Una volta impostato il proprio sistema di gestione degli RSS, ci si inizia a divertire: si leggono le notizie, si segnano quelle preferite e si condividono con gli amici quelle più buffe o interessanti.

Ecco, vorrei condividere con voi una delle simpatiche foto che ho appena visto sul RSS di Pixdaus, molto divertente.

Ciao!

Poor Guy

(Via Pixdaus: Popular Today Pics.)

Effetto Berkeley?

 

Che questo sia l’effetto del vivere a Berkeley?

No, non vi preoccupate, è solo una simpatica foto creata grazie al sito internet Yearbookyourself. In sostanza il sito internet vi permette di aggiungere una vostra foto e di vedere il vostro volto trasformato in quello di uno studente americano, dagli anni ’50 ai giorni nostri.

Quella che vedete è una foto degli anni ’80, se non erro.

Il sito è veramente divertente, da provare assolutamente!