On the evening of January 27, 2011, the government of Egypt stopped the majority of internet traffic going in or out of the country. Eighty million people were suddenly disconnected from the rest of the world. This was in an attempt to prevent the planned protests of the Egyptian people on January 28th to force a change in their government.

This is a visualization of the internet disruption:

Just two days prior to this event, it was reported that the US Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee is attempting to pass a bill that would allow the US government to have similar powers to turn off internet access if needed. Essentially, this bill would allow the government to “turn off” the internet without judicial review. The events in Egypt should prevent this bill from passing.

First, the rulers of Egypt have proven that a government will abuse the “internet kill switch” for its own selfish causes. Likewise, arguments can now be made that the ability to stop internet communications is in conflict with the freedoms of speech and of the press as documented in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

More practically, however, just imagine what the financial devastation will be to companies that have all of their online presence located in Egypt. Who would ever place a web site or database on a server in Egypt now? Imagine how it would affect all the server farms and internet access providers if the US government had the ability to turn off the country’s internet access. Why would an international company risk placing servers in a country whose government could instantly disrupt internet access without limits?

The events in Egypt over the last 24 hours should show why a government’s power over an “internet kill switch” is such a horrible idea.

Wikipedia Uncertainty Principle

September 4th, 2008

Reading this reddit thread today, I found this idea regarding Wikipedia to be most profound.

Tarantio:

Thus, the Wikipedia Uncertainty Principle.

One cannot call attention to a wikipedia article without causing that article to be altered.

theCroc:

At any given time a wikipedia article both contains and does not contain any one given fact. Observing it will cause only one of the cases to be true. Calling attention to it will cause the other case to become true for a short time until it resettles on the first.

Obviously, this is a play on the original Uncertainty Principle of quantum physics. This suggests, in simple terms, that the observation of a subatomic particle changes the ability to measure it accurately.

Wikipedia is free-content encyclopedia that anybody (to a limit) can edit. It is one of the most frequently used references on the internet and is generally considered to be a trustworthy source. However, due to it’s open edit policy, controversial topics may contain debatable and frequently changing information. Thus, the wikipedia uncertainty principle comes into play.

When a discussion about a precise piece of information within wikipedia occurs, occasionally somebody will actually be editing that information in wikipedia during the discussion. In fact, the discussion actually increases the chances that people will add, remove, or modify that information. Depending on the edits, the debatable information may or may not be there at any one time.

The bigger the discussion, the more edits that will occur… and the more “uncertain” is that data within wikipedia.

OpenEMR is Ridiculous

March 18th, 2008

Having “open” electronic medical records (EMR) is absolutely ridiculous.

ReadWriteWeb believes that we should be able to control and transfer medical records personally. However, this is felt impossible because health care is “controlled by big business and government.” Furthermore, they state that “decentralizing this network and giving the power for each American to control their own medical record could ensure higher reliability, less poor diagnoses, and can handle scale.”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Yes, our current medical record system needs to change. As a practicing physician, I frequently see test duplication and delays in diagnosis due to our current closed system. Doctors at one hospital will likely not get results from other hospitals in a reasonable amount of time. Even if a physician knows to request the records, often the physician may not know specifically what to request. Worse yet, these records are usually faxes from one hospital to another.

With these problems, the brainstem reflex is to let each person control his or her own medical history. Let me, the patient, control who and what accesses my medical records. It is romantic. It is crazy and flawed.

Actually, if the patient was always YOU, then an open EMR might work. You are probably not crazy. You probably do not abuse the system, drugs, or your body. But you are the same person who actually accurately keeps up with medical history now. Any medical record system works well for you.

Let me a take common ICU admission for you. Young lady found down unresponsive and barely breathing. Maybe by searching her house or testing her urine we can estimate that she has overdosed. Maybe she has been in the hospital before and we know that she has been depressed or has a history of overdose. Maybe she also has a rare disease like adrenal insufficiency that can be fatal if not also concurrently treated.

Assume that we fix this lady up and forward her medical records to her EMR carrier of choice. If it is truly open, she can forward it to anyone. Perhaps she forwards it to a “lockbox” carrier who promises to keep it hidden from other systems. Her physicians will never know about her suicide attempt or her potentially life threating illness. Perhaps she forwards it to a “edit” carrier who promises to sanitize or grossly edit the medical record for her. She pays a little extra so her medical record will now show that she has a crippling pain syndrome and requires narcotic pain medications.

Open is open. An open medical record system is an untrustworthy medical record system. Now, I agree that people should have the ability to view and make comments about their personal medical records. Doctors and tests are not perfect, and a patient should have the right to make his/her opinions known.

Luckily, this is not complicated. Just get the EMR companies to come together a establish a universal document standard and communication API. The government would host and secure the common database that would store all the information. Patients could log in and make comments to clarify the record, but information could not be removed or edited.

Medical records are as essential as legal records. Should legal records be open too? Frequently life and death decisions are based upon these documents. A truly open EMR system allows for manipulation and abuse. A universal medical records system will save money and lives. It is vital and essential to insure that the record is inclusive and precise. In this circumstance, being “open” is not the solution.

I will be glad to detail and debate further issues in the comments below.

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The Ten Internet Trends of 2007

December 17th, 2007

When we look back on 2007 in a few years, these ten topics and companies will be the milestones that will be referenced and debated:

  • 1. Google Pushes Its Power
  • 2. Aggregators Polluted by the Mobs
  • 3. Mobile Web. Why?
  • 4. User-Submitted Profits
  • 5. Apple Leaps
  • 6. Microsoft Tumbles
  • 7. DRM. Die. Die. Die.
  • 8. Main Stream Media Invasion
  • 9. Politics’ Internet Fruitfulless
  • 10. Social Network Assimilation

1. Google

Google is currently the most powerful technology company in the world. With dominance in search and advertising, profits and stock prices have been impressive.

This year will be remembered as the point that google starting flexing its power to change people’s actions on the internet. Matt Cutts confirmed that google would punish people buying and selling links to influence search engine placement.

Google decreased the clickable adsense area which decreased some publishers’ income by well over 50%.

Google has openly started attacking social networks such as Facebook by joining the smaller networks through the OpenSocial API and by socializing Google services such as Google Reader. This dilutes the power that any one social networking system has. Google’s purchase of Jaiku is a direct competitor to IM candy Twitter. Google’s Android dilutes the potential power of a cellular network as well.

Wikipedia and squidoo will soon be feeling the google crunch next. Collaborative content is one of the most amazing products being created and delivered on the internet. Google’s Knol wants to compete here as well. Like many others, TechCrunch is worried about the conflict of interest:

Google says that Knol pages will be indexed into their search engine but will have no special ranking. That’s a little bit untrue, since they’ll be hosted by Google and will have the advantage of Google’s hefty PageRank to lift them in search results. And since no one will be auditing Google to ensure that Knol pages are treated just like everyone else, there are bound to be claims of conflict of interest.

This first started by competing with Microsoft through online services. Is Google’s strategy to dilute any potential collection of power?

2. Web 2.0 Aggregators

Digg and Reddit have moved away from tech. Sad.

Mob Rule. Tyranny of the Majority. Ochlocracy. Whatever you call it, these sites are the weak, fluffy versions of what they used to be. As the less-geek have moved in, the content of these aggregators have followed. Even the creators cannot control the sites anymore.

Unless you have a large social connection within these sites, you have no chance of getting an article viewed… (unless you pay for it.) Socializing is more important than quality.

Although I view both of these sites on a daily basis, they are frequently gamed, overcome with political manipulation, often filled with spamish links, and are utterly unrealiable as news sources.

What’s the alternative? You can always read what the A-List boys’s club is echoing about on techmeme. Or you can watch the main stream news… which is frequently gamed, overcome with manipulation… You get the idea.

3. Mobile Web

The mobile web is growing and growing. However, unless you are selling ringtones, nobody has figured how to make money from it. Even mobile web experts are puzzled on the exact nature of making money through mobile devices.

Plus, does there have to be a special “mobile web” anymore? The iPhone displays regular web content through a cell interface. Instead of manipulating content to look pretty on tiny browsers, manipulate the cell web browser to view existing content well on the cellular interface. When was the last time you remember visiting a mobi site?

4. User-Submitted Profits

Everybody is making money on the back on the users.

NewsVine, Squidoo, Wikipedia, Digg, Reddit, YouTube, Facebook. If you really think about it, none of these companies would work without the public building content for them. You are building content for them. Congratulations! When do you expect your check?

Even blogs and forums get boost from comments and discussions created within their communities. (Please comment, please, please, please…)

How long will people continue to sow content in the sites of others for free?

5. Apple

I personally believe that this was an amazing year for Apple. Apple stocks are certainly booming.

The iPhone has changed the cellular landscape that parallels how the iPod changed the portable musical player market. Apple’s commericals are painfully clever in their attacks against Microsoft. Leopard’s problems have been far less damaging than Vista’s which has helped as well. Overall, more and more people are considering moving to Apple’s platform.

Apple has shown areas of weakness, however. The AppleTV push has really died for the general public. With an anorexic iTunes movie selection, the AppleTV has little appeal to the nongeek. iTunes itself is having growing pains with content providers. NBC/Universal have decided to play hardball with TV shows and music. It’s difficult to know how it is going to play out. Apple is understandingly becoming weaker and weaker for DRM as well.

Being less ambitious than Vista has played well for Leopard. However, the new OS X is still causing growing pains for a lot of people. Feeling the vapor, we are still wondering where the much promised ZFS is?

6. Microsoft

As a one time Microsoft zealot, I am pained to see what has happened to Microsoft this year. Vista is failing because it has taken users too many steps as once. We all had to throw away most of our old hardware when XP rolled out. Most of us accepted this because the pre-XP experience was so unstable. XP was the successful promise of easy usage and stability. I wanted to install XP for my parents because I knew it would make things easier for them.

Today the market is different. Things worked pretty well before Vista. People do not want to sacrifice most of their hardware to get things working correctly. Plus, now we have 32-bit versus 64-bit discussion and “ultimate” products that add little except confusion.

Away from the OS, Microsoft’s search engines and ad networks are stagnant, and Microsoft certainly seems to be trying to kill html email usability. From my experience at FOWD, Sean Siebel is not an impressive “User Experience Evangelist.” At least Scoble tried.

Microsoft has made a few positive steps this year. The Microsoft Home Server is a new idea for a new market. If done well, it could be an essential box in every household. IE7 is a large improvement over IE6. Microsoft is investing in Facebook. Even the second Zune release (and the free software upgrade to the first version) is finally generating a little positive Microsoft buzz. Silverlight and Surface are sexy and innovative.

7. DRM

Could 2007 be the year that DRM finally starts to die?

Die. Die. Die.

Shawn Fanning’s original idea of drm-free Napster could exist in several different forms over the next few years. iTunes Plus and Amazon’s DRM free shows that the big guys are creeping into this direction. Steve Jobs thinks this way, too.

Radiohead’s In Rainbows “pay us what you want” experiment is exciting. Saul Williams and Trent Reznor are doing something similar.

Give them the music for free and sell them on the other stuff. It’s coming.

8. Main Stream Media

How about give them the content for free, too?

The New York Times is finally free. Online circulation is having to make up for the dying dead trees distribution:

Nationwide, average daily paid newspaper circulation declined 2.6 percent in the six months that ended Sept. 30, compared with the previous year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, an independent organization that monitors the industry. Sunday circulation dropped 3.5 percent nationwide during the same period.

As the main stream media looks to supplement eyeball views with online content, their articles are appearing more and more in news aggregators. How long until we figure out that some of digg’s top users are on the payrolls of popular newspapers or public relations companies?

As advertising dollars move from TV and newspaper to the internet, the main stream media is following. How much this will drown out the current boom on citizen journalism is unclear.

9. Internet and Politics

Howad Dean’s success and subsequent failure seemed to grow from within communities within the internet. Was online activism a good idea too early? Will the traditionally nonvoting, young, internet crowd actually play any role in the upcoming elections? These are the questions that campaigns are asking .

Campaigns are on MySpace, FaceBook, and YouTube. You can not read digg or reddit without reading about Ron Paul or Kucinich. Of course, strike911 received active buzz throughout the internet without getting support from the general public or receiving any real main stream press.

This campaign cycle should be a great test to see if online voting and protesting will cause any offline results.

10. Social Networks

Online social networks have continued to grow throughout 2007. The large players like MySpace and Facebook are ubiquitous. How they are changing our interactions with our personal worlds are staggering. The influence and entertainment role of TV is being largely supplanted by these social networks. For many, offline social interactions are first initiated and planned online. Small niches of personalities and beliefs can find like-minded partners.

The success of YouTube and Flickr is obviously dependent on their social interactions. Digg and reddit are driven by social interactions. Dating networks are thriving.

As more of our social lives are played out online, more of our personal information is accessible online as well. More of our personal actions and characteristics are targeted by advertisers. More of our actions can be collected and used against us. Will an insurance company be able to find out that you are a member of a tobacco social group or a Huntington’s disease facebook group? The ultimate balance between profit and privacy will be difficult.

11. Memes?

Oh wait.. I left out lolcats. I am not sure if that’s a trend or a plague, but 2007 is certainly the a year of it. Or maybe it’s not a trend, maybe it is a meme. Who knows anymore…

Conclusion:
As I reread my article, my overall feeling is that our experience on the internet is becoming more complex. The name “google” no longer gives most people warm and fuzzy feelings. Digg and reddit are often manipulated more than main stream media. Facebook is looking to trade privacy for profits.

The idea of a “do no evil” company is more likely an untruth than an oxymoron. Previously, we thought it was possible on the internet. No more.

Of course, I would not want to do without Facebook, Digg, Reddit, or Google. We all benefit from the battles between Apple and Microsoft. Companies need to make money to survive. The balance is tough.

The real world continues to invades our idealist internet utopia. “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” but I would rather be here than anywhere else.

This event actually just happened to me–again. I had meant to blog about it the first time, but I complete forgot. Therefore, a big shout-out goes to the cute Emo, frazzled haired checkout girl who reminded me today.

Many stores these days give you a “rewards” card if you give them your phone number and email address. I actually have a deck of these cards that would take up a whole pocket if I carried them all with me. Since nobody actually brings these cards, they usually ask for your phone number for validation.

Glitches in the system exist, however. People switch phone numbers occasionally. Many of the software lookup systems display close matches as well as exact matches. Plus, many customers have no idea what phone number they originally gave when they signed up.

This can have funny results.

“What’s the phone number on your account, Sir?”
“Try this…” (I give them my cell number)
“Are you bonecrusher at gmail.com? What about sexypsychopath at aol?” (She doesn’t even chuckle.)
“No. Try my wife’s cell.”
“Oh, is she admin at xyz.com?”

So now I am getting interested in all the free information. I try out my neighbor’s phone number, and she correctly spits back my neighbor’s email address. I might have been scared if it were ilustaftermyneighbor or windowpeeker.

I try my work number at the hospital. She tells me that about 15 people have signed up using that number including angrynurse and smokinRT. She looks up at me as my mouth hangs agape.

Reflexively, I give her my home number. After slowly phonetically sounding out purtyinpank correctly and OMGOMG incorrectly, she finally reads out my email address…

When the Emo girl started asking for my phone number today, she started doing the email dance and chuckled at a few of them. She said she has to be careful guessing because an elderly guy got offended one time because she did not think that littlehotpants was his email address.

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Today I discovered one of the weaknesses of badges, gadgets, and embeds. Users who are behind restrictive web filters may never correctly see a web page that contains an “include” from a blocked site.

On my XP machines at work, the Facebook Badge does not time out in a graceful manner. This has been the source of my thinking that my blog has not been working incorrectly. Today I installed firebug and yslow for firefox and noticed the following…

slow facebook badge

The site was stuck on waiting for the facebook badge — eternally. This is likely because of the websense restrictive filtering policy of the hospital. If I try to directly visit facebook, that never resolves either. I receive an eternal “Waiting for…” message in the tray in both IE6 and firefox.

Eventually, IE6 just quits waiting for the badge and never renders the rest of the page. After a minute or two, firefox gives up and does render the page; however, it is such a long delay most people would give up ship and move to another page.

Certainly, you can complain about the way the browsers handle timeouts on javascript. However, the more important point is the following:

How many users are we missing because we are using these embedded objects?

The huge spikes in internet traffic during the work portion of the week suggests that a large majority of internet traffic is from people at work. People at work often have some type of internet filter between them and the rest of the world. It makes sense to me, then, that these hot new embeddable objects may be making many web pages inaccessible to many users.

If a browser fails to load an image, it fails gracefully. If a browser fails to load a gadget, the rendering of your entire page may choke.

Does online anonymity allow people the freedom to express their bigotry?  Does the traditional free-for-all of the internet allow racial humor to thrive without the limits of political correctness?  Why does mainstream media get slaughtered for terminology that is commonplace on the web?

As a generic, white (half-Polish) geek, I am the stereotypical guy who populates the forums and user-contributed sites of the internet.  Digg, youtube, Fark, slashdot– when you think of the pale, pasty, gadget-loving guys who hang out on those sites, you are thinking of me.  However, as a blogger and webmaster, I struggle with political correctness.  What can I say or not say?  How can I be funny and edgy without being offensive?  Who do I ban?  What user-contributed content should I delete?

I have previously discussed Imus getting fired and how it is affecting expression of race throughout mainstream media and the arts.  For those of you who have banned traditional media, Imus is a legendary shock-jock who got fired after he called members of the Rutgers female basketball team “nappy-headed hos.”

Take this in contrast.  Digg, one of the biggest user-contributed web 2.0 sites, had this story promoted to its front page a few days ago: “Honda wigger clown car story” The BEST Best-of on CraigsList EVER. 

wigger_digg_1

Wikipedia defines “wigger” as the following: 

Wigger (alternatively spelled wigga, whigger or whigga) is a slang term for a white person who emulates mannerisms, slangs and fashions stereotypically associated with urban African Americans; especially in relation to hip hop culture.

More simply, you could define it as a white N-Word.  The black friends and colleagues that I asked found this term very derogatory to black people.  Some of them suggested that it was equally as offensive as the N-word.   As a white guy, I have no clue how offensive it really is.  I think everybody would agree that it would cause a major uproar if used on terrestrial radio or television.

However, on digg or CraigsList it is no problem. 

 wigger_craigs_list

The advantage of user-submitted and moderated sites, like digg, is that most racially objective stories get voted down.   The digg users in this story felt very comfortable with the term.  In fact, they massively voted down a user who suggested that the term was offensive.

As the majority of digg users are likely white, is the “wigger” term acceptable in that community?  More importantly, why can a major web site with such huge traffic use a term that would not be acceptable on the radio or television? 

I am not advocating that it is right or wrong, but there is obviously a double-standard. 

Dreamhost Problems Continue

February 26th, 2007

Number of the day:

4.198%

This is the amount of downtime for our test servers on dreamhost this month.

There only over 900 comments on the latest dreamhost status update.

Dreamhost Downtime — 7hrs

February 25th, 2007

Egads.

I know dreamhost had scheduled downtime… but 7 hrs!?!?

Here is what our domain monitoring service captured for our dreamhost test site…

02:13 AM – 09:30 AM FAILED

Over 7 hours. Wow.

Over 700 comments as of now in dreamhost’s two status blog posts — planned power outage and power outage update. A safe assumption would be that some users are not very happy. :)

Jimmy Ruska today pointed out that fark has added the Rel=Nofollow tag to its outgoing links. Wikipedia just added Rel=Nofollow tags as well.

What is Rel=Nofollow?

Google (and other search engines) decide what content is the best partially by how many people link to it. Links with the rel=”nofollow” attribute do not influence the link target’s position in the search engine ratings.

Another way of putting it… linking to something is like voting for it. By creating a link you tell the search engines that you think it is good content. The links of high ranked sites like wikipedia and fark are even more powerful.

Death by Power

In order to get these powerful links, people spam popular sites. This corrupts the purity of these sites. Soon the editors are spending more time sorting through spam links than doing what they want to do. By killing the strength of their links, they hope to decrease the evil spam behavior.

Is Rel=Nofollow bad?

One of the wonderful things about the internet is that the little guy still has a chance to be the best. Getting linked by digg, slashdot, or fark can instantly boost content to a respectable place within google. Getting a wikipedia link tells google that the content is a good source of information.

Now imagine a world where all the big players use rel=nofollow. Suddenly the source of peer review has diminished. For the search engines it becomes more of a numbers game and reputation becomes less important. Will the little guy still honestly be able to get to the top?

I hate link spammers as much as the next guy. Rel=Nofollow just does not seem to be a very graceful solution.