Archive for May, 2008

Beyond Good and Evil 2

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

It appears that Ubisoft just announced Beyond Good and Evil 2 with an in engine trailer at their UbiDays press event.  This is fantastic, fantastic news.

If you didn’t play the original (XBOX/PS2/PC) you missed out on a well written compelling action adventure that always ends up on those lists of “under appreciated classics”.  Thankfully it seems enough people did appreciate it.

You can probably pick up the original for pennies these days, and I *think* it’s one of the few titles on the Xbox Originals download service on the 360.  No excuses.  (If it isn’t, just get Fahrenheit instead!).

There’s a trailer over here, lovingly stolen from the ever excellent kotaku.

Web 3.0 Data Silos and Identity Portals – Overthrowing social networks

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Since I wrote my previous entry on data ownership and web 3.0 I’ve put a significant amount of thought in to how to crawl out of this restrictive data warehousing hole.  As a result of this I’ve started planning a project tentatively called MyIdentityPortal which I hope will succeed in providing an out of the box (initially .NET) implementation of a personal data silo for the web.

A few months ago I started looking in to contributing to the .NET OpenId project, I downloaded an old release, did a bunch of work around it, then realised I’d GITted the wrong version, updated and saw something remarkably accomplished; at this point I felt that really the project didn’t need my assistance, but instead I was interested in producing something derived from it – a central profile and data controlling application.  This is effectively what I intend MyIdentityPortal to be.

The implementation should be fundamentally simple.  I’d like to implement an attractive web application that’s installable at the very least on a Win 2003 webserver (hopefully with a PHP or Ruby port down the road) which helps define the interactions of social networking as protocols.  Effectively, what I want to build is a sort of reverse proxy for RSS feeds.

The portal should provide four key services:

  • Providing your OpenId
  • Providing an RSS/Atom feed of data
  • Providing an XML-RPC endpoint (not web-services, soap seems a little overweight for the task) which expose microformatted data dependant upon the query parameters
  • Acting as a reverse proxy for RSS/Atom/XML-RPC data to allow the delegation of responsibility

Traditionally, modern websites tend to allow you to export data or access data externally using RSS feeds and I want to try and stick to this existing paradigm for the portal.  I want to try and turn this flow of data around, allowing you to set up a portal which you elect as your trusted “master” data source and your OpenId provider.

Using this portal (your own personal data silo), you set up various types of feeds (blog posts, micro-blogging ala twitter, iCal events, friends feeds/interpersonal connections, profile information, photo feeds, etc, etc) in a user customisable manner and supply these feed URLs to third party applications (facebook, myspace, etc) as the master source of data for each distinct data type they require.

These applications then take your data and add value to it in the form of their networking services.

The other thing the portal should allow you to do is to delegate responsibility, effectively proxy and transform an RSS feed or XML-RPC call.  Say, for example, that you really love the way that your WordPress blogging platform works, you love the interface, you love the presentation and you love the host.  Why change that?  The portal should allow you to define an external resource (RSS/Atom/XML-RPC) as the owner of that data, then transparently proxy it to a third party when the request that information from the portal.

The benefit of this type of data silo is fantastic and offers tangible benefits right now: 

  • You have the ability to withhold or withdraw feed data.
  • You have the ability to disconnect or shut down your feeds in one location.
  • You can always define the master source of data transparently, be it through a portal plug in that produces that content or a delegate that proxies it.
  • You can control access rights to your data based on OpenIds and requesting domains.
  • It absolutely enforces interoperability between third party sites- they all syndicate the same feeds and data, no more missing out on parties because you don’t have a facebook profile to receive the invite on.

In addition to this as you elect your own provider (in this case by installing the FOSS application) you can effectively associate yourself with the portal.  One of my predictions on the evolution of the web hinges on micro-payments being used for small content purchases alongside subscriptions, and this kind of portal could be instrumental in painless payments by joining it with a payment system or subscription management services which, again, is under your control, and contains your subscriptions that external websites could authenticate and validate with.

I really want to get to a position where I have a wonderful interface that keeps track of my online presence, the data feeds and requests that I expose as “related to me” and perhaps even a shared storage area, that contacts, both personal and professional, could use to access the information about me which I permit.

In the first implementation, I’d like to aim for things that are useful now.  An OpenId provider, aimed at the single user, which encompasses RSS and Atom feed delegation and transformation along with a nice interface to administer this delegation.  I’d like to be able to log in to the provider with the open id it hosts, and set up some Feed endpoints which relay, as the first example, the feed from my blog.  I’d later like to expand this to expose some simple query / response pairs using XML-RPC for accessing a photo gallery (some basic commands like list all, search and retrieve) or perhaps calendar events using with any luck an existing standard (I hear iCal is reasonable though I have no experience with it).  Perhaps after that, expand to some more trivial functionality, perhaps a “recent play list” feed which mirrors the functionality of Last.FM to round of a few example use cases and just see where the product and implementation evolves from there.

It’ll be both free and open source.

I’ve already started cooking the first implementation on train rides, thankfully technically it shouldn’t be too complex, hinging off existing technology and using standard protocols.  I’m working on the feed delegation first, in case anyone’s curious.  I’ve got my good friend Chris Bird on board to thrash ideas out and hopefully work alongside when we have time.  If you’re interested in helping with the project don’t hesitate to get in touch (you can find contact information here).

Adoption will be a horrible sticking point.  None of the networking sites will appreciate losing control of your data, but really, that’s not the sort of control they should have had in the first place. 
W
ith any luck, there’ll be enough pressure to adopt an open standard that forces interoperability that they’ll have to change or die.

Now Playing: Textures – Silhouettes – 02 – The Sun’s Architect

Stop Holding My Data Hostage – Data Ownership and Web 3.0

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

If I were to write down a list of things I really really don’t like about the “web 2.0″ ecosystem it’d be exhaustive and consist of all of the current fads, go-to websites like facebook, twitter, flickr et al, and would really be summarised by the phrase “low signal to noise ratio”.  However, I think the concepts behind all of the mentioned sites and the fictional huge list are compelling, fantastic ideas, just implemented in a horribly disparate way.

I went to see Richard Stallman talk on the ethics of the free software movement (not the open source movement, he spent a long time explaining the difference, and rightly so) last Thursday.  It was a very interesting talk, Stallman has a reputation of being quite the… extreme evangelist, and he definitely has earned that reputation.  I don’t agree with some of his viewpoints for several unrelated reasons, but I respect his integrity and his pure black and white belief in The Four Freedoms of Free Software.  It’s with a similar initially terrified mind that I really believe that the current trend towards extreme social interaction (micro-blogging, regular blogging, friends lists, updates and feeds) should be free and open.

I was looking in to twitter tonight, a concept I’ve dismissed as a low information high noise communication medium, but I’m always willing to be convinced.  As part of this I was looking into the competing services offered by a few other companies and I’m really quite worried at how exclusive these services are from each other, despite operating in practically the same field (the main two I was looking at were twitter and pownce, for sake of reference).  This lack of interoperability is the stuff Microsoft get lynched for and the “FOSS” world cries foul over, yet these same people who happily campaigned for open protocols for Instant Messaging five years ago will silently sign up to these locked-in services without thinking twice.  It’s quite telling that with these micro blogging services, there are several third party applications to post a message to all of them at once.

It seems to be a recurring theme, that whenever I see a nice “web 2.0″ website, the first thing I do is think “that’s really cool, how can I re-implement that, so I control the data, and can inter-operate with their website”.  That’s the first thing I thought about twitter, that’s the first thing I though about Livejournal as and when I slowly started wanting to migrate away from using it to keep in contact with people, and it was the first thing I though of when I saw the mother of all mash-ups that is Facebook.

The funny thing is, the platform for this, in the most primitive of senses, already exists.  Most of these websites export to RSS or Atom feeds, and nearly all of them syndicate in some way, they just never seem to offer the option to syndicate in a way that makes other services messages flow fluidly with their own.

What I really hope and dream for, is that the “web 2.0 feature set” becomes a set of protocols, the most simple implementation could even be an RSS feed or webservice combined with microformats.  I don’t Facebook to store a list of all the people that are my friends, or myspace for that matter, I want facebook or myspace to ask me for a feed or service URL which will present it with a list of my friends.  They can then write all the functionality in the world that deals with those friends, who sign up in the same way.  People would visit the site for the value the site added, not because it was holding their data hostage.  I don’t want a third party website to store upcoming events for me, I want to provide my calendar in feed format to them.  I don’t want my friends to send me to a “facebook event”, I want them to invite me to an “Event” that I can view using facebook.  Or whatever grows to take its place.

In the same way I believe that it’s really important that people control their own identities in the “digital future”, I really believe that it’s your own responsibility to make sure YOUR data is in good hands.  I don’t want some American corporate to have some laptops stolen with my data on them, because that data shouldn’t be there in the first place.

The first and foremost barrier to these data control issues is the service providers themselves and their financial bottom lines, they’d need to adapt to add value instead of retaining you for your data, the second barrier however is the ability to control your own data.  Most people are not technical, most people won’t have the first clue about who “owns” their data, let alone how to set up a data server, which supplies feeds and maintains profiles.  Informing the user is obviously the first step, but after that it’s down to providing for the user.

I really hope and believe (and will probably start spiking out some prototypes in the not so distant future) that there will be some significant development effort put in to a simple “host your own identity” platform.  In the same way that phpBB became synonymous with internet message boards post Usenet, some kind of “Open Identity Platform” would be a godsend.  A central place to maintain all your lists, post your updates, keep your calendar, your contacts, your email.  And most importantly, it’s YOUR central place.  Be that on your server, or a service provider that you trust and have explicitly given the permission, authority and potentially funds to control your Open Identity. 

I think there’s even a chance that the control of your online identity will become a physical thing in the coming decade, as IPv6 rolls out and more and more countries get high bandwidth in the home, I think we’ll see people hosting their own websites and identities in physical devices in the home that inter-operate with desktop applications and other household appliances.  Just like “home networking” as a concept was crazy fifteen years ago (I remember setting up a ring network in the early-mid 90s as an early teenager and feeling very very advanced) and home wireless was laughable at the turn of the century, we now have cheep Belkin wireless home network access points and anyone can VPN.  Maybe in ten years we’ll have home identity providers with a built in webserver to maintain your identity.  Plug and play.  When your grandma can do it, the consumer has officially “won”.

It’s a long road, and the major networking providers will need to start supporting the concept of feeding in the data externally as though it were part of their system, but the interoperability of the internet is effectively at stake if this doesn’t happen over the coming decade.  I’d hate to see the interactivity of this phase of the internets dubious “development” be lost to red tape and a lack of foresight.  A lot of the current ecosystem is a fad and will die, but the concepts of global communication are strong ones and deserve to mature.

I want to use global single sign on, I want to keep an online photo gallery, I want to micro blog, I want to instant message, I want to have a global calendar, I want to tell you who my friends are.  Network providers; I’ll provide you with the content, you provide me the added value.

Now Playing: nine inch nails – head down

Nine Inch Nails – The Slip

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

In order to not let my reputation as a nine inch nails advertising website slip, for those of you that didn’t notice, there’s a new album, 100% free downloadable from http://theslip.nin.com/.  It’s full of vocals and words and stuff.  Enjoy.

Now Playing: nine inch nails – echoplex