April 26th, 2012
The Descriptive Camera takes what the concept of metadata about images to a new level, making use of cameras and Amazon's Mechanical Turk:
As we amass an incredible amount of photos, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage our collections. Imagine if descriptive metadata about each photo could be appended to the image on the fly – information about who is in each photo, what they're doing, and their environment could become incredibly useful in being able to search, filter, and cross-reference our photo collections. Of course, we don't yet have the technology that makes this a practical proposition, but the Descriptive Camera explores these possibilities. […]
Having said that, isn't at least some part of the Descriptive Camera's functionality being undertaken – albeit for very different reasons – by Facebook users who go round tagging one another's photos? Isn't every Facebook 'friend' potentially a stand-in in for the Mechanical Turk, busily identifying who's who in their friends' photographs?
Tristan Louis has a confession to make:
I killed the internet.
It wasn't some thing I had planned but it was the net result of my actions. And I'm going to explain how it happened. […]
[Via James Fallows]
Evgeny Morozov laments The Death of the Cyberflâneur:
THE other day, while I was rummaging through a stack of oldish articles on the future of the Internet, an obscure little essay from 1998 – published, of all places, on a Web site called Ceramics Today – caught my eye. Celebrating the rise of the "cyberflâneur," it painted a bright digital future, brimming with playfulness, intrigue and serendipity, that awaited this mysterious online type. This vision of tomorrow seemed all but inevitable at a time when "what the city and the street were to the Flâneur, the Internet and the Superhighway have become to the Cyberflâneur."
Intrigued, I set out to discover what happened to the cyberflâneur. While I quickly found other contemporaneous commentators who believed that flânerie would flourish online, the sad state of today's Internet suggests that they couldn't have been more wrong. Cyberflâneurs are few and far between, while the very practice of cyberflânerie seems at odds with the world of social media. What went wrong? And should we worry? […]
Morozov's argument is that most web users these days aren't going online to see if there's anything interesting out there today: they're shopping, or seeking out news headlines, or engaging with one another via walled gardens1 like Facebook.
He's not wrong that this is a description of how people choose to use the web, but I don't think that's necessarily a problem, any more than it's a problem that a lot of people who use public libraries will be engaging in a goal-oriented search for books that can improve their chances of passing an exam/finding a job/understanding what sort of optical aids they'll need if they want to see the Galilean moons of Jupiter, rather than browsing the New Fiction shelves for something to divert them from their daily routine. I suspect than most of the people walking the streets of late 19th century Paris weren't flâneurs, any more than most web users in 2001 wrote weblogs. The beauty of the web is that it lets us find and connect with other people who share our interests without letting that fact that 99.754% of web users aren't even slightly geeky about the same things as you and I get in our way, or theirs.
It's possible that one day Facebook's gravitational pull will cause us all to close down our vanity domains and start posting to our Facebook walls, but I'm sceptical that'll come to pass any time soon.
Remember when Apple made TV adverts styling themselves as opponents of Big Brother. Judging by a recent Employment Tribunal finding, that stance is inoperative:
Crisp, who worked in an Apple Store, posted derogatory statements on Facebook about Apple and its products. The posts were made on a "private" Facebook page and outside of working hours. One of his colleagues, who happened to be a Facebook "friend", saw the comments, printed the posts and passed them to the store manager. Crisp was subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct.
The employment tribunal rejected Crisp's claim for unfair dismissal. […]
Despite having "private" Facebook settings, the tribunal decided that there was nothing to prevent friends from copying and passing on Crisp's comments, so he was unable to rely on the right to privacy contained in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (covered in the UK by the Human Rights Act 1998). He retained his right to freedom of expression under Article 10, but Apple successfully argued that it was justified and proportionate to limit this right in order to protect its commercial reputation against potentially damaging posts.
I'm not saying that the tribunal's findings are wrong in law: apparently Apple Retail's 'social media policy' emphasised that employees were forbidden from posting unfavourable opinions on the company's products on social media sites, so on the face of it the ex-employee was in breach of this policy.
My problem is threefold:
There's no way to take a time-out from our social life and describe it to a computer without social consequences. At the very least, the fact that I have an exquisitely maintained and categorized contact list telegraphs the fact that I'm the kind of schlub who would spend hours gardening a contact list, instead of going out and being an awesome guy. The social graph wants to turn us back into third graders, laboriously spelling out just who is our fifth-best-friend. But there's a reason we stopped doing that kind of thing in third grade!
You might almost think that the whole scheme had been cooked up by a bunch of hyperintelligent but hopelessly socially naive people, and you would not be wrong. Asking computer nerds to design social software is a little bit like hiring a Mormon bartender. Our industry abounds in people for whom social interaction has always been more of a puzzle to be reverse-engineered than a good time to be had, and the result is these vaguely Martian protocols.
How good is this essay? Right up there with Argentina On Two Steaks A Day.
Jotly cares about you:
Your life is exciting and worth sharing: everything with everyone! Everyone cares about everything you do. Now you can rate your entire life and share the experience.
Fortunately, this is just a spoof. Let's just hope it doesn't give anyone any bright ideas…1
Evgeny Morozov finds Jeff Jarvis' latest paean to the wonders of the internet deeply flawed, and rather unserious:
Why are we so obsessed with privacy? Jarvis blames rapacious privacy advocates – "there is money to be made in privacy" – who are paid to mislead the "netizens," that amorphous elite of cosmopolitan Internet users whom Jarvis regularly volunteers to represent in Davos. On Jarvis's scale of evil, privacy advocates fall between Qaddafi's African mercenaries and greedy investment bankers. All they do is "howl, cry foul, sharpen arrows, get angry, get rankled, are incredulous, are concerned, watch, and fret." Reading Jarvis, you would think that Privacy International (full-time staff: three) is a terrifying behemoth next to Google (lobbying expenses in 2010: $5.2 million).
"Privacy should not be our only concern," Jarvis declares. "Privacy has its advocates. So must publicness." He compiles a long and somewhat tedious list of the many benefits of "publicness": "builds relationships," "disarms strangers," "enables collaboration," "unleashes the wisdom (and generosity) of the crowd," "defuses the myth of perfection," "neutralizes stigmas," "grants immortality … or at least credit," "organizes us," and even "protects us." Much of this is self-evident. Do we really need to peek inside the world of Internet commerce to grasp that anyone entering into the simplest of human relationships surrenders a modicum of privacy? But Jarvis has mastered the art of transforming the most trivial observations into empty business maxims.
Contrary to Jarvis' protestations, Morozov's review doesn't read to me as a personal attack – more a clinical, brutal dismantling of a collection of shallow cliches in support of the argument that we shouldn't worry about the way pretty much every commercial entity we deal with online seeks to hoover up as much personal information about our use of the internet as it can because the (somewhat nebulous) benefits outweigh the potential problems. So long as you respect your cultural norms, you'll be fine.
[Via The Awl]
Jason Scott found a Facebook exchange that neatly encapsulates the pros and cons of the latest round of changes to the way Facebook operates.
The Government is focusing on entirely the wrong problem in trying to increase their powers to ban, block or monitor people's communications. Social networks like Twitter are used for a huge array of positive purposes such as warnings of danger and organising clean up projects. Blanket surveillance measures of private communications or increased powers to mine users data would undermine people's freedom to communicate in very damaging ways, and would in no way address the problems at hand. Making laws in haste, with limited analysis and information, to deal with an exceptional problem is likely to create unbalanced laws and abuses of our rights.
[Context: a comment thread inspired by David Cameron's argument in favour of controlling the type of discussions taking place via social media.]
12 August 2011 4:14PM
12 August 2011 2:51PM
"If you've got nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear"
So glad to hear that, now I'd like your full name, address, date of birth, make and model of car you drive, all telephone numbers mobile and landline, name of employer, email address, annual income (gross and net), and of course I'd also like to know what your daily schedule is and what times you estimate being out of the house this weekend. Come on now, if you've nothing to hide then you've nothing to fear. Please post this information publicly, or are you up to something?
Oh and please post your internet history too, I'd like to check what sites you browse, just to make sure you aren't fapping to something nasty. By your own statement if you are reluctant to do so then you must be up to something criminal. Or you could admit your over simplistic statement was absurd.
[Via Memex 1.1]
See something or say something plots maps of major cities, showing locations from which people tweeted and locations where they posted photographs to Flickr.
Unfortunately I don't know any of the cities well enough to positively identify the locations revealed by the pictures, but a quick look at Google Maps seems to confirm that1 many of the concentrations of red dots in London mark the locations of the various royal or public parks.
[Via Flowing Data]
- Go to Google Reader
- Google Reader will reload and you'll see a simplified interface that removes the section "People you follow" and no longer shows shared items from your friends.
[Via Tom Morris]
James Shelley on social media overload:
Are we still communicating? Or are we just sending faxes?
(Rest assured that, read in context, that's a perfectly sound metaphor.)
Facebook is a living computer nightmare. Just as viruses took the advantages of sharing information on floppies and modems and revealed a devastating undercarriage to the whole process, making every computer transaction suspect… and just as spyware/malware took advantage of beautiful advances in computer strength and horsepower to turn your beloved machine of expression into a gatling gun of misery and assholery… Facebook now stands as taking over a decade and a half of the dream of the World Wide Web and turning it into a miserable IT cube farm of pseudo human interaction, a bastardized form of e-mail, of mailing lists, of photo albums, of friendship. While I can't really imply that it was going to be any other way, I can not sit by and act like this whole turn of events hasn't resulted in an epidemic of ruin that will have consequences far-reaching from anything related to archiving.
Follow the link – trust me, the full rant is well worth a read.
The Best Obnoxious Responses To Misspellings On Facebook. My favourite: the entry about the bombing of Libya.
[Via Word Magazine Blog]