China shuts access to Twitter, Flickr, Bing, Live, Hotmail, Blogger via the “Great Firewall” filters


China is closing down access to various internet services as they approach they anniversary of the Tiananmen Square democracy protests in 1989.   The early report from TechCrunch  says that Twitter, Flickr, Bing, Live, Hotmail, Blogger have all been made hard to access via the “Great Firewall” filters.     I did notice when in China last year that there are various programs like ‘Great Ladder” that allow people to bypass these filters, but obviously not many are going to have the combination of nerve and savvy to do this.

I believe that China’s censorship policies are probably counterproductive *even to the Chinese Government’s goals* in the long term, and I’d sure like to find a way for the internet community to make this clear to China’s leaders.   Ironically China’s leadership has done a remarkable job transitioning away from the bulky, centralized, bureaucratic economy that had been stifling progress for decades.    China’s citizens now enjoy a higher level of prosperity and *economic* freedom than they arguably have ever had in history.  Much of this prosperity is the result of producing goods for the US market.   What exactly does the government think will happen if they allow more open dialog in China?     I’d suggest they’ll find this would tend to reduce the tensions created by unhappy citizens rather than increase them.    Suppression of dissent in Tibet routinely brings international scorn to China, where a more open dialog will bring praise, respect, and support.

China needs to realize that the world’s fascination and respect for China’s culture and international influence will be enhanced by free speech, not reduced.

TechCrunch UK is reporting on this and I’m looking for more direct information now.

More from China’s CN Reviews

Friendly vs Unfriendly Artificial Intelligences – an important debate


As we quickly approach the rise of self-aware and self-improving intelligent machines the debates are going to sound pretty strange, but they are arguably the most important questions humanity has ever faced.    Over at Michael’s Blog there’s a great discussion about how unfriendly AI’s could pose an existential risk to humanity.

I remain skeptical, writing over there about Steve Omohundro’s paper:

Great references to make your earlier point though I remain very skeptical of Steve’s worries even though one can easily agree with most of his itemized points. They just don’t lead to the conclusion that a “free range” AI is likely to pose a threat to humanity.

With a hard takeoff it seems likely to me that any *human* efforts at making a friendly AI will be modified to obscurity within a very short time. More importantly though it seems very reasonable to assume machine AI ethics won’t diverge profoundly from the ethics humanity has developed over time. We’ve become far less ruthless and selfish in our thinking than in the past, both on an individual and collective basis. Most of the violence now rises from *irrational* approaches, not the supremely rational ones we can expect from Mr. and Mrs. AI.

Wait, there’s MORE AI fun here at CNET

Tweets in Space from Nasa


I’ve been writing a lot lately about Twitter for many reasons, but I think two very good examples of why Twitter represents a key social media breakthrough are the upcoming Twitter tweets from space by NASA astronaut Mark Polansky and last month’s contest for followers between celebrity Ashton Kutcher and CNN news.   (Kutcher won by topping a million Twitter followers first).      Note that NASA and Kutcher – arguably two of the more technically adept big name brands, are not using Facebook to push content and interact with fans, they are using Twitter.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter is a very open, interactive, public venue.    It’s almost ideally suited to superficial yet “somewhat intimate”  interaction with both a small and large audience, and I think this is the key brilliancy of Twitter.    It serves both as a messaging system with friends  or business associates but also as a kind of community public square that allows you to interact with millions of other people in an informal yet direct way.    Pushing out a note to the world via Twitter, especially if you have a lot of people following you, is likely to result in fast, often rewarding feedback.

For well over a decade  it has been clear that the internet is about *people* much more than it is  about technology or computers.   However it’s only in the last few years that the barriers to entry, the familiarity with the tools, widespread access to broadband, mobile phones, and more of the human components of the internet have come together in the necessary ways to push people ahead of technology as the key online consideration.   Twitter remains at the same time superficial and profound and is the culmination of that online socialization paradigm.    With only tens of millions using Twitter and over 200 million on Facebook there is clearly  plenty of  room for Facebook success, but I believe we’ll see Twitter continue to grow more rapidly and become the key global messaging tool – primarily because it’s so simple to use and much friendlier for mobile applications.

Yes, you should be on Twitter too and let me know so I can follow you!    Joe Duck on Twitter

Of course we are not alone in the universe, but not for the reasons suggested by most UFO enthusiasts.


I can’t tell you how much I wish the UFO stories were all true.   In fact I’d be thrilled if even *one* of them was a credible story.   But they aren’t.  It’s very, very unlikely that even a single one of the thousands of reported stories about aliens visiting earth are true, for the reasons I discuss below.

Every so often Astronaut Ed Mitchell is quoted – here at CNN – talking about the Government cover ups of Roswell and other alien incidents he is convinced prove the existence of extraterrestrials and their visits to earth.    With all due respect to Mr. Mitchell’s accomplished career this is an area where he’s by no means an expert and clearly has just been convinced by the same silly stories that have convinced thousands of other people “We are not alone”, mostly because they want to believe rather than because there is any compelling evidence.    In fact there is no compelling evidence of alien visits to earth, and the idea the Government is covering up those visits is just dumb.

Don’t get me wrong – it is in my view it is nearly *certain* that there are at least *millions* of other planets with intelligent life on them.   I’ve blogged about why I think there’s a very high likelihood that there are probably many billions of civilizations in the universe.     In short it’s because we – as little replicating macromolecular structures – are unlikely to be all that special and because the universe is so darn huge with hundreds of billions of *galaxies*, each with hundreds of billions of stars and probably billions of planets.

But unfortunately for us earth lies in the low traffic zone of our milky way galaxy.    We are so far from the center, and so far from even the closest star, that visits from aliens – especially organic ones like the dude pictured in the silly Roswell hoax – are very, very unlikely.    Even with advanced technologies it would likely take many organic being lifetimes to travel to earth.  Tommo corrects me on this – time dilation would allow organic beings to travel extensively if the ship could approach speed of light.

Why would they choose this part of the Galaxy when the center is teaming with  star systems and probably millions of times more life per sector?

Don’t flatter yourself – the idea that we have attained some special status of great interest to more advanced beings that have the technologies to travel throughout the galaxy is a weak idea.   Possible, sure, but weak.

We are NOT alone in the universe, but we won’t be visited anytime soon.

Signed,

Roswell Joe

The Stupid File: Twitter as Cult, destroyer of moral compasses. BALONEY!


One of the most intriguing and most frustrating aspects of the “new media” is how foolish the stories become as writers search for meaning amidst the ocean of change and sea of drivel that makes up the modern information infrastructure aka “Them Dang Interwebs”.

Today’s foolishness takes the form of Jeremy Toeman’s article “It’s Official, Twitter is a Cult” where Jeremy manages to mangle the meaning of a cult about as many times as he invokes it in criticizing Twitter.    Another article actually suggests Twitter is wreaking havoc with moral compasses but I’m not sure I’ll even dignify that nonsense with a read, especially because I find Twitter to be the *least morally offensive* of the many internet venues where I hang out.

Yo TwitterCritterCizers, when is the last time a group of your friends drilled a bunch of wells to give extremely poor people in Africa water?  On Twitter the answer is “Last Saturday “, when the Charity:Water effort, funded by hundreds of thousands of small donations from Twitter folks, began a project to bring clean water to Africa.    This act alone defies much of the cult charge since it is clearly benefitting people who are far outside the “Twitter” network and represents the opposite of a totalitarian, elitist approach to social interaction.   But let’s go through the “Cult” charges one by one to note how backwards this analysis really is.

I’m harping on this partly becuase I’m a twitter fan / evangelist but also because the promise of social media is absolutely spectacular, and I think Twitter may come the closest to realizing that promise for a mass audience.    Twitter and most other social media experiments represent humankind’s best effort to date to create broad based, non-elitist, participatory democracies and social networking infrastructures.    Twitter *defies* the cult and elitist mentality that is still pervasive in legacy human interaction, especially in religion and politics where money, charisma, and connections completely trump solid qualifications and personal virtues.

At the risk of falling into Jeremy’s  trap and talking about a stupid article, I really think its’ a good idea to debunk this mythology before the world comes to an end and only me and the glorious Twitter people survive the apocalypse , whoops…. I mean before it gets out of hand.

  1. It uses psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain its members
    Nope, in fact it’s hard to even talk about Twitter to friends, relatives, or readers of this blog who mostly think it’s silly.    I like to evangelize blogging but don’t do that much with Twitter, and  in Twitter land Twitter rejection is expected and OK.   No cultishness in the “coercion” department.
  2. It forms an elitist totalitarian society
    Ummmm.  No.  There are no real “kingpins” on Twitter.  In fact the founders, Biz Stone and Evan Williams, are not even the most followed and don’t participate in Twitter all that actively with comments.   Both are pretty mild mannered geeky guys who live modest lifesyles and largely shun the fame and personal power Twitter could bring to them with the simple act of more postings and calls to action.   Furthermore, on Twitter you can follow anybody you care to, and many will probably follow you back if you don’t annoy them with appeals to buy things.   This is called an “egalitarian society” and is the opposite of a totalitarian one.
  3. Its founder/leader is self-appointed, dogmatic, messianic, not accountable and has charisma. Even the author of the article states this one is “a stretch”.   A stretch to utter nonsense.
  4. It believes ‘the end justifies the means’ in order to solicit funds/recruit people
    Huh?   Twitter does not solicit funds or actively recruit people.   It is free, it is open, you can leave, join, participate at your own whim.
  5. Its wealth does not benefit its members or society
    First, it has little wealth at this time.  Twitter’s looking to monetize its spectacular success and most folks hope they can do it, but one thing that is clear is that unlike cults Twitter won’t ask the members for anything – not even active participation.   More importantly Twitter’s  is getting used to generate a lot of money for *charities* and good works like the Charity:Water project listed above.

Conclusion:   Twitter is not a cult, it’s a minor social miracle.

PS  To avoid an untimely demise pass this Twitter propaganda on to 1000 of your closest friends and relatives and follow @joeduck at Twitter

Microsoft’s Vision of 2019


Thanks to Long Zheng for this post at his blog “istartedsomething.com” about a couple of Microsoft Videos showcasing the MS vision of gadgets and interactions in the future.   The shorter video is neat but it was a sequence in the long one that really, REALLY got my attention.    Using surface computing (which is already a robust application), on a transparent wall, two kids in classrooms thousands of miles away from each other were reacting in real time and in *different languages* as their voices were translated instantly for the other student.    The technology driving this application is pretty much here now although I think there’d be some challenges making it work as fast as in the video, but  this is the kind of stuff that is so provocative, powerful, and cool that it brings a technology teardrop to my eye.

In a world challenged so dramatically by a combination of ignorance and misunderstanding, how much progress could we make with technologies like this that cross connect people and cultures almost seamlessly?      Obviously we have a long way to go and this is technology for the rich folks among those in our global family, but as these technologies penetrate into affluent or lucky schools the appeal and testing will continue until we can have much wider distribution.

http://www.istartedsomething.com/20090228/microsoft-office-labs-vision-2019-video/

To Twitter or just copy Twitter?


In technology there are few more important questions than “What’s going to happen with Twitter”.    As with many early adopter issues, only the digerati and a few smart marketers understand how profoundly and importantly Twitter is reshaping the online landscape, giving a voice to millions who want to interact casually and superficially with … millions more.

This spinoff effort will be very interesting to watch as it’s a successful niche website that is  establishing a Twitter like interface:
http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2009/03/27/a-twitter-spinoff-launches-for-moms/

The challenge here is that if every website you go to has it’s *own* chatting interface you’ll either 1) get ticked off or 2) spend the rest of your life interacting with people at all these sites.

The answer is not individual site chat areas, rather we need to integrate the real Twitter with websites.  (or some other chat standard,  but Twitter seems to be the right choice given it’s ease of use and exploding subscriber base)

Open ID, Facebook connect and Google Friend Connect and open social and Disqus (for blog questions) and many other applications  have the right general idea but nobody seems to be able to integrate all this across the board.   We need to be able to seamlessly move from site to site, carrying our identity along with us so we can comment and interact easily.

Google & Facebook & Twitter, oh my!


Silicon Alley Insider is discussing an interesting analysis suggesting that Facebook could be a “Google Killer” thanks to Facebook’s greater rate of growth and the suggestion that Facebook now accounts for 19% of incoming Google unique user traffic, up from 9% a year ago.

My intuitive take on this is that the analysis is misleading and seriously flawed for several reasons:

1) Rates of growth will tend to be vastly larger as sites approach the market saturation levels we have with Google and I think we may soon have with Facebook.      The new 800 pound Gorilla on the social scene is  Twitter which is growing at over 1000% last year.   You can’t 10x your current traffic for long without exhausting all people on earth, so all these rates must slow, and soon.     e.g. at 1000% annual growth with 5,000,000 unique users you’ll exhaust earth’s population in about 3 years, 2 months.

2) Twitter will chip away at Facebook user’s time online, and fast.    No major application has grown at the rate we see now at Twitter.    For many reasons we’ll see Twitter continue to grow explosively for at least a few years and I’ll be surprised if it does not rival Facebook within 3 years in terms of use.    Most high tech early adopters are tending to move away from time on Facebook and towards time on Twitter, and major media is showing a huge enthusiasm for promoting Twitter feedback on TV to mainstream America.   Twitter, not Facebook, is the application with the most disruptive potential.

3) Monetization of Social Media sucks, and will continue to suck.    Google can easily monetize searches for things where Facebook continues to struggle to find ways to turn the vast numbers of views into big money.   Although they are likely to make modest progress,  I do not see social networking as potentially all that lucrative where keyword search, almost by definition, remains the best high value internet monetizing framework.

4) The claim that 19% of Google uniques from Facebook  seems very, very dubious.    This number appears to be from Comscore and does not even make sense.   Facebook searches do not generally direct people to Google, so presumably this is suggesting that a staggering number of people leave Facebook to go do a  search at Google?    I’m trying to find more detail about this but it does not pass the sniff test even if they are simply stating that people tend to jump to Google after visiting Facebook, which is correlation and probably not causation.
This suggests that Facebook’s 236m uniques drive  (.19 x 772m) =     146m uniques to Google?         Something is  Facebook fishy here.

I am confident that all three of these applications will continue to thrive because each is filling a different online need and doing the job well.   There is no need to converge online activity more than has already been done.   For example it’s not inconvenient to switch to your banking or travel booking website for those tasks, and many probably prefer this to having a single “one stop shop” for all online activity.     Ironically Facebook’s attempts to imitate Twitter may actually accelerate the growth of Twitter which seems to be a better way to communicate quickly and effectively and superficially with many contacts.      Facebook, however, has been making good progress with their “open social” efforts that allow users to log in to other sites easily and then post blog comments and other activity to their Facebook account.     Facebook will thrive but as the recent revaluations / downward valuations suggest Facebook is no Google and will never be Google.    Search trumps social in terms of making money, and the mother’s milk of internet growth and to some extent  innovation is …. money   (though I’d say innovation is fueled by the lure of wealth as much as real wealth).

The Social Networking Generation(s) enter online “adolescence”


Although Social Networking has been around for some time it has not seen anything like the widespread use until fairly recently.     Where technologists and early adopters are trying to figure out the importance of the  Twitter explosion to the social networking landscape, millions of regular folks are just now starting to come to grips with how social media is changing our relationships and our personal identities in ways we’re only beginning to understand.

Peggy Orenstein has a thoughtful article at the New York Times today about the how Facebook social networking has affected her and also her concerns about how it will change the way kids grow up.    She notes how a Facebooker’s post of a picture of her at 16, and her own Facebook account, brought up many items from her past, even including what appeared to be an inappropriate encounter with a high school teacher who now wants to be a Facebook friend.

She asks:

As a survivor of the postage-stamp era, college was my big chance to doff the roles in my family and community that I had outgrown, to reinvent myself, to get busy with the embarrassing, exciting, muddy, wonderful work of creating an adult identity. Can you really do that with your 450 closest friends watching, all tweeting to affirm ad nauseam your present self?

The answer, as anybody who has been socially networking for long knows, is “sure, Peggy, no problem”.      I’d argue that the benefits of what we might call socially “‘transparent living” probably far outweigh the costs, though it’ll be years before we understand how all of this will shake out.     From a sociological point of view the most intriguing aspect to me is that the technologies are allowing us to expand our “social networks” well beyond the limits that nature intended.

Evolution works too slowly to anticipate most technological changes so our “tribal” genetics has prepared us well to deal with “hundreds” of personal associations rather than the “thousands” we have with even a modest level of socializing online.      I suppose you could argue that a “letter to the editor” in a local paper reaches thousands of people, and in this case can even label you for some time depending on how you express your concerns, but most people don’t write these letters where even in rural communities there are many thousands of people using social networks, creating huge numbers of individual interactions every day.

If biological and social evolution really do limit us to only about 150 close personal associations as some have suggested we’ll probably see that social networks will eventually sort of “implode” as people reduce their connections to more manageable numbers of friends.  However I don’t really see this – my guess is that we’ll see humans expand their numbers of  contacts well beyond the 150 number, reaching a new plateau that will likely be defined as much by our personal history of real associations as by any biological limits.    In fact there’s a lot for the Facebooks and Twitters of the world to do to make it easier to manage our growing social networks, and I’d guess we’ll soon see a lot more slicing and dicing of contacts than we have to date into “close friends”, “family”, “business associates”, etc.    As in real life we’ll eventually want to control access to our information from different groups in several ways.

Another intriguing aspect of social networking is what we might call the Social Networking  “all your base are belong to us”  problem.    Even if a person despises the internet, social interaction, and everything technological they are already likely to appear in some internet venues and will eventually appear in many social networks.    Phone records, your home and real estate, business associations and records, permits, and most importantly photographs and videos are flowing online at a rate of billions and billions of bytes per second.    This information is increasingly  “tagged” by people you may not even know with information about you, usually without your consent or even your knowledge.    Reclusive old curmudgeons beware – you could be all over the place in no time by simply owning a home or phone or  attending a family function, Community BBQ, or Shriner’s parade.

Assume that a person on Facebook or Twitter has 200 people who read about them and who they read about.     Assuming each person in this network creates a *single item* for *private* review – a photo or short comment.    This small level of activity – under a minute of action per person – in one sense explodes to generate 200 x 200=40,000 different personal interactions.      Although obviously every participant won’t review every possible interaction which would not be possible without a rash of exploding heads, the total amount of interactions in the total  Social-Network-O-Sphere is, literally, mind boggling.

How this will affect our feeble human condition?    I don’t know, but you can bet your Twitter we’ll all be dealing with it for some time.

Why Twitter matters … a lot. Clue = Soylent Green.


Twitter is moving into the mainstream faster than any major internet application in history, and is redefining  online behavior as we continue to  move away from “internet as information” and into the era of “internet as people”.

Obviously both information and socializing will play a huge role in online behavior for the duration, but like the ubiquitous and mysterious food source in the old Charleton Heston Movie, Soylent Green

solyentgreen

Twitter is especially  important because ….  “Twitter is People”.

Some Twitter enthusiasts wrongly suggest that Twitter is important because it is breaking a few bits and bytes of news in real time (e.g. Hudson Plane Crash, CA Plane Crash) or providing a platform for discussion of pressing social issues (e.g. Gaza War).    Meanwhile Twitter critics very foolishly point to the obvious about Twitter’s superficiality as if this was a defect.

Twitter is certainly largely superficial in terms of how people chit chat on the service, but this is the reason for it’s spectacular success.  Humans by nature – ie by millions of years of evolution – are not designed well for thoughtful, reasoned discourse.   Instead, for much of evolutionary history we were very UNintelligently designed by trial and error and random mutations to survive in sometimes hostile environments.     This makes us a short term, superficial socializing thinker more than a long term planner.    Sure, we sometimes  do that long term stuff but if there are any lessons we can derive from history  it is how poorly humanity has optimized our long term well being.    One need look no further than the ongoing global financial crisis, global terror threats, tribal disputes across Africa, or global religious intolerance to see how poorly we cope with situations that would probably respond well with even a modest level of long term, optimal  planning rather than the short term knee jerk nonsense that often stains our  local and international finance, politics, and social relationships.

Twitter’s simplicity and superficiality are exactly why it will continue to thrive, diving into mainstream use faster than you can Tweet  Ellen Degeneres, who yesterday challenged her viewers to become “followers” of her Twitter account.    Although her goal of a million followers was not realistic, Ellen rose from zero to over 110,000 followers in a single day – perhaps a Twitter record and certainly a demonstration of a significant convergence of Television and internet audiences.

As internet activity stabilizes I think we’ll see people relying more and more on Twitter as their socializing platform of choice.    There’s certainly room for many social networking sites,  but I think Facebook needs to worry that Twitter may diminish the time people spend at Facebook in favor of the simpler, more intuitive interactions at Twitter.     Twitter has done for social networking what Google did for Search – they created a super clean interface and made it extremely easy to participate, building a large and happy user base in a very short time.     Unlike Google, however, Twitter will continue to face challenges monetizing their success, for as we’ve learned from Facebook’s experiences with ads and advertising fiascos it is not nearly as easy to make money in social networking as in information searching.    I predict it never will be as easy and Twitter is likely to face some interesting challenges as they try to bridge the gap between user enthusiasm for Twitter and aversion to advertising.      However Twitter will be a spectacular success with even a fraction of Google’s adverising revenue, so I see them thriving for some time.

TechCrunch’s Erick has this